The Gauchos Prepare to Host Cal Poly this Weekend
Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 7 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs. Cal Poly (8-7, 2-0)
at The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Mustangs: 44-25
Last meeting: W, 3-1 (Oct. 27, 2013)
Last weekend, the Gauchos started their Big West schedule with matches against Long Beach State and UC Irvine. In their conference opener agains the 49ers, the Gauchos played in a five-set thriller, and were just edged out by a 15-13 decision in the final game. UCSB bounced back from the heart breaking loss with a decisive 3-0 sweep over the Anteaters. The two matches marked the Gauchos' first home competition since their season opener against Stanford on Aug. 30.
Despite missing four of UCSB's 14 matches, Katey Thompson owns the second-highest kills total on the team with 136, just one short of Leah Sully's mark. In the her first weekend against Big West opponents, the senior connected for 33 kills, swinging for a .278 hit percentage. Against the 49ers, Thompson recorded a career-high 23 kills, which was also the second time she has made 20 or more kills in a single match. With the many attacks on the weekend, Thompson delivered her most pivotal kill against UC Irvine. In the third set, the Anteaters forced UCSB into extra points, and it was Thompson who ended the match by thundering home her 10th kill of the night.
Checking the Conference
The Gauchos enter the second week of Big West play tied with Long Beach State for fourth place at 1-1. Led by Katey Thompson, the Gauchos top the Big West with 112 kills in conference play and are just one of two teams to record 100 or more kills entering this week. UCSB also owns 20 total blocks against Big West opponents, which also leads the conference. Defensively, the Gauchos are second in league play with 111 digs.
Hitting the High Marks
Since the start of conference play, UCSB has climbed the Big West rankings in nearly every category. Katey Thompson is third in kills per set with a 3.46 average, and Hanna Nielson has cracked the top 10 at seventh place with 376 assists. Though Leah Sully just made the switch to libero last week, she is sixth in the conference with 172 digs.
UCSB is fifth in the Big West with 182 total block assists. Middle blocker Phoebe Grunt leads the team in the category with 41 and has five solo blocks, which are also the most on the team. The freshman is sixth in the league with 1.02 blocks per set. As a team, the Gauchos' top blocking performance came against then No. 1 USC when the Women of Troy's offense was denied 14 times – a combination of one solo block and 26 block assists. Again, it was Grunt who paced UCSB in that matchup with 11 block assists.
Saturday's match will be the 70th meeting between UCSB and Cal Poly. The Gauchos are currently are on a three-match win streak against the Mustangs, giving up only one set in that stretch.
Managing the Mustangs
Cal Poly comes into Saturday with an 8-7 record and a perfect 2-0 conference mark. Last weekend, the Mustangs opened their Big West schedule with back-to-back home sweeps against UC Irvine and Long Beach State. Leading Cal Poly's offense are Chelsea Hardin and Megan McConnell with 174 and 167 kills, respectively. Both account for about three kills per set. At the net, Taylor Gruenewald leads with 39 block assists, while Marianne Gera paces the Mustangs with nine solo blocks. One of the toughest defenses in the Big West, Cal Poly has three player with 140 or more digs this season. Kate Walter's 146 is followed by McConnell's 144 and Steffi Sooter's 140.
Right Up Their Ali
Aside from Sully and Thompson, the Gauchos have seen quality production out of two underclassmen: Ali Spindt and Ali Barbeau. Spindt is third on UCSB's roster with 128 kills. She also has 127 digs, good for third most among the Gauchos. Currently, Spindt has put up double-digit kills figures in three straight matches, tying her season-high. Barbeau has accounted for the fourth most points on the team with 125.5, highlighted by her 17-kill performance against Virginia. The freshman is one of four players that average more than two kills per set for UCSB with a 2.06 average.
Leah Sully has shown her versatility as a player this season by leading the Gauchos in both kills and digs. Her 136 kills top the UCSB roster, but she recently made the move to libero to help anchor her team's defense. So far, the transition has been seamless, as in her first two matches she posted 20 digs against Long Beach State and followed that performance up with seven more digs versus UC Irvine. The senior is now averaging 3.13 digs per set, good for eighth place in the Big West.
Two-Year Thunderdome Celebration Continues
In 2013-14, UC Santa Barbara will continue its two-year 35th anniversary celebration of the Thunderdome. In the Fall of 1979, the doors officially opened for UCSB's Events Center and a new era in Gaucho Athletics was born. Nicknamed the Thunderdome, the Events Center has been home for UCSB's prolific women's volleyball program since its opening. Under the bright lights of the 'Dome, the Gauchos established themselves as a perennial NCAA contender, qualifying for the national tournament 27 times including 26 straight.
UCSB women's volleyball is historically one of the most successful teams in the NCAA. The Gauchos are just one of only four teams to qualify for the first 26 NCAA Tournaments. Overall, UCSB reached 27 NCAA Tournaments, which includes multiple Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen berths. Before the NCAA recognized women's volleyball, UCSB was one of the top teams in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), reaching its national tournament Final Four three times including two third place finishes.