Members of two Big West championship teams and some pioneering players from UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball teams of the 1970s were at the Thunderdome to watch this year’s Gaucho squad play UC Irvine and be recognized on Saturday night.
What they witnessed was a dominating, efficient performance by Matt Jones’ team. The Gaucho never took their foot off the gas pedal and steamrolled the Anteaters, 25-12, 25-15, 25-12, for their fourth straight Big West victory and 14th overall against two losses.
The numbers bear out just how one-sided this match went. UCSB hit .408 as team and held Irvine to a .024 average. The Gauchos recorded 13 total team blocks, had a serve reception average of .917 and a serving efficiency of .945.
“This was one of those nights,” said Jones. “We talked about in the press conference (after Friday’s four-set win over Cal State Fullerton) that even though we played fairly well and dropped a set to Fullerton, the energy just felt a little bit weird on our side for whatever reason.
“Tonight, we flipped that script pretty hard. I felt like everything broke our way. We were super disciplined with the scouting report, our blocking was really, really tight — just hands in the right place and really disciplined technique. And the setters did a great job.”
The Gauchos got into a groove almost immediately after senior All-Big West player Michelle Ohwobete finished singing a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
She said the singing doesn’t carry over to her play on the court, where she’s ripping balls for points from the back and front row and keeping rallies alive with her defense.
“I just compartmentalize, and when I’m done singing. I like to be here working to connect with my setters and with my teammates. I’m happy that both were on tonight.”
Setter Grace McIntosh went on a 10-point serving run for a 17-7 lead in the first set. She was especially good at targeting the left front spot of the Irvine alignment.
The Anteaters struggled to organize a good attack off the short serves, and UCSB capitalized. Ohwobete hammered a pair of kills from the back row, Briana McKnight had a pair of blocks, including a solo, and scored on a tip, and McIntosh connected with middle Andi Kreiling for a straight-down kill during the big scoring run.
“This season I’ve been practicing my short serve a lot and I feel really comfortable serving it,” said McIntosh. “And Matt feels comfortable with me back there serving it. Short serving gets them out of system pretty well because either the front row player is passing it or someone’s getting in the way from the back row. It’s always a good option to serve.”
Ohwobete led the UCSB attack with 12 kills on 23 swings, with one error, for a sparkling hitting percentage of .478. Tasia Farmer had eight kills and one error on 14 swings for a .500 average, and Kreiling hit .600 with 6 kills on 10 attempts.
McIntosh and Michelle Zhao were both on-point with their sets, notching 18 and 12 assists, respectively.
Irvine (3-12, 1-3) was led by outside hitter Hunter Reid with 12 kills on a .240 average. The Anteaters had only two total team blocks.
Zhao fed Grace Wuischpard in the middle to break a 7-7 tie and give UCSB he lead for good in the second set. Wuischpard also served an ace during a 9-2 run that included a crushing kill from Farmer on an over-dig and a combo-block by Farmer and Kreiling.
The Gauchos never let up in the third set, as Macall Peed served three aces during a 9-1 run to start the set.
Jones said he didn’t have to say anything to his players about finishing off the match in three sets.
“I’ll let you in on the secret. I don’t think I’ve said anything that’s too life changing, unfortunately,” he cracked. “If we had a movie about our team, I would not be an interesting character.
“Basically, our philosophy is tied a lot around just being steady as possible.”
And the record shows that the Gauchos have been rock steady.
The Big West Championship teams of 2003 and 2013, the players from the 70s and the fans are impressed.