The Gauchos kicked off the UCSB Invitational on Friday night by defeating the University of Idaho Vandals in a five-game thriller, 3-2 (25-11, 23-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-12).
In the other match on the first day of the UCSB Invitational, the defending NCAA champs UCLA breezed by Northeastern in straight sets to give the Huskies their first loss of the season.
Four Gauchos recorded double-doubles in their two-hour, 15-minute marathon. Junior Katey Thompson had one of the strongest nights of her career, picking up a team and career-high 17 kills and three aces to go along with 14 digs. Junior outside hitter Leah Sully had 14 kills and 20 digs.
Junior outside hitter Kara Sherrard picked up 12 digs and pitched in 15 kills that were critical down the stretch. Sophomore setter Ali Santi showed herself to be an able floor general, dishing out 57 assists on the night and contributing 14 digs.
Despite those four stat lines, freshman middle blocker Taylor Britton was the Gaucho who put her team over the top. Britton had 16 kills overall on the night, however eight of those 16 kills came in the final two games. Britton was also efficient in her swings, racking up a match-high .464 hitting percentage.
“Britton was pivotal for us down the stretch, said a grateful Kathy Gregory post-game, “she was clutch and really came through when we needed her.”
Victory seemed all but assured for the Gauchos after a dominant first game. With the score tied 10-10, the Gauchos went on a rampage, winning 13 straight points in a run highlighted by a trio of Leah Sully aces and four blocks from junior middle blocker Jenna Wilson. Wilson finished the night with nine blocks overall, two of them solo.
Freshman libero Taylor Formico extended a number of rallies with her strong play in the first game. Formico picked up 10 digs in the first game, and finished the night with 32, the most by a Gaucho so far in the young season.
The Gauchos dominant first-game form slipped away a bit in the second, as the Vandals were able to find their attacking game. The Vandals hit a whopping .459 in the second set to bring themselves back into the match.
The two teams battled fairly evenly through the next two games to force a decisive fifth game.
Down 0-2 in the fifth, Leah Sully once again led a rally at the service line. The Gauchos would claim seven of the next 10 points after that inital defecit to build up a 7-3 lead that they would not relinquish. A Katelyn Peterson attacking that sailed wide right clinched the victory for UCSB.
The University of Idaho was led by Allison Walker, who collected a match-high 26 kills and 20 digs. Libero Janelle Chow was busy on the back line, accruing a match-high 39 digs.
Day Two of the UCSB Invitational features three matches. UCSB plays twice- first at 11 AM against Northeastern, followed by a 7 PM matchup against UCLA.