Making sure his UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball players keep a sense calm during matches is a vital part of Matt Jones’ coaching approach.
That had to be hard on Friday as the Gauchos and reigning Big West champion Hawaii battled down to the wire in the fifth set before more than 1,000 fans at the Thunderdome.
The Gauchos saw a 14-10 slip away but managed to hang on for a 15-13 victory after a challenge went in their favor on Michelle Ohwobete’s eventual game-winning kill.
Her high hit to the deep court went out of bounds, which tied the score at 14. But Jones called for a video review, claiming the Hawai’i blockers touched the ball. The ruling went in favor of the Gauchos and they went crazy after it was announced.
The marathon 25-22, 19-25, 25-21, 21-25, 15-13 victory over the Rainbow Wahine kept the Gauchos alone in first place in the Big West with a undefeated record of 8-0 and improved their overall mark to 18-2. Hawai’i dropped to 5-2 and 12-6.
“It’s always a little anticlimactic to win a match on a challenge, but at the end of the day we’re trying to get a win and that’s all that matters,” said Jones. “So, yeah, it feels good. Every (match) is big, but obviously to beat Hawaii definitely means something to us, but there’s still a long, long way to go.”
Seniors Macall Peed and Ohwobete were instrumental in the Gauchos’ ability to hold off the Rainbow Wahine. Peed picked up 29 digs, many of them coming off direct blasts that avoided UCSB blockers. She laid out to keep the ball in play during the rally that ended with Ohwobete’s game winner.
Peed said it was all about catching their breath “and reminding each other that we’ve been here before. We know what to do and we pulled it off.
“Especially against Hawai’i, it’s always going to be a dogfight,” Peed said of the match intensity. “I like playing defense against their hitters. Obviously, they are very good. It helps me a lot having my block, it makes my life a lot easier. But, yeah, you gotta go hard for every point if you want to win, especially against a team like them.”
Ohwobete finished with a match-best 18 kills to go with 10 digs for a double-double. She was the leading point scorer with 21.
She also reached a milestone, recording her 1,000th career kill during the fourth set.
“It feels good,” said Ohwobete of reaching 1,000 kills. “You keep swinging and I’m grateful to my teammates and all the extra reps that they tolerate.”
On handling the pressure of the fifth set, she said she “felt comfortable in the sense I know my teammates have my back and I’m still swinging and still going and getting after it. I feel like everyone felt that, which is why we got the result that we got.”
Jones applauded his players for keeping their composure, even after a couple of hitting errors down the stretch.
“When you get in a tight match with a good team and really want your team to execute the scouting report a certain way, we as coaches make mistakes too. So, we’re trying to do the same thing, just using each other as a staff to kind of bounce ideas that we’re not getting too high and freaking out too much. We’re trying to get back to breath work and presenting a posture that keeps me in a calm state.
“To Micha’s point, at no point was I uncomfortable. I thought we responded the right way, we came back and we were ready to go. I think that allowed us to win the fifth set.”
Tasia Farmer put away 16 kills and was UCSB’s second-leading scorer with 17.5 points. Briana McKnight scored 15.5 points, posting a double-double of 11 kills and 16 digs, served three aces and had three block assists.
Middle Andi Kreiling had nine total blocks, including a solo. Setters Grace McIntosh and Michelle Zhao combined for 47 assists and 19 digs. Zhao led in digs with 12, while McIntosh topped the team with 28 assists.
Hawai’i setter Kate Lang (43 assists) did a good job spreading the ball around. Four players had double figures in kills, led by opposite Paula Guersching with 16 on a .366 average. Middles Amber Igiede and Kennedi Evans were tough to stop, combining for 28 kills. Igiede, who Jones called one of the best middles in the country, had 15 kills on a .343 average and seven total blocks. Outside hitter Riley Wagoner joined Evans with 13 kills.
Lang was the dig leader with 22.