WVB: Gauchos sweep Titans to stay in Big West title hunt

Riding a 17.5 point performance from senior opposite Katey Thompson, the Gauchos handily swept visiting Cal State Fullerton 3-0 on Friday night, giving the team 11 wins in their last 12 matches and putting them even closer to the top of the conference standings.

Game scores for the match went 25-22, 25-18, 25-21.

With an overall record of 16-9 and an 11-2 Big West mark, UCSB currently sits just .5 games behind first place Cal State Northridge, who was idle on Friday, in the conference standings. The Gauchos have a chance to overtake the Matadors Saturday, as the blue-and-gold will host a 1-24 UC Riverside team while CSUN will be playing at Hawai’i.

Several players chipped in for the Gauchos on Friday night. Thompson’s 11 kill, five block, four ace night headlined UCSB’s attackers, while Kara Sherrard (four aces) Ali Spindt (10 kills, nine digs), Jaylen Villanueva(seven kills on just 19 swings), and Ali Barbeau (eight kills, six digs) all contributed offensively.

The eight team service aces were the second most by the Gauchos this season, and tied for the most in a three-setter. It was the first time in 2013 that two UCSB servers had at least four aces.

With 13 digs, senior libero Leah Sully led the Gauchos defensively. The four-year started needs just 49 digs over the rest of the season to overtake the UCSB career digs record. Sophomore setter Hannah Nielson had a fine night in the front row, leading the Gauchos with 21 assists.

Freshman middle blocker Phoebe Grunt was a force at the net, co-leading all players with five blocks and picking up kills on each of her first three swings.

“When you play well, good things will happen,” said UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. “We believe that anyone can beat anyone on any given night in this league, so it’s a credit to the team for coming prepared and being ready to play tonight.”

Despite the collective output, Thompson was the star early and often for UCSB against the Titans. Tied at 3-3 in the first game, the senior took over at the service line, scoring four straight points, capped off by back-to-back aces to put UCSB up 7-3. Cal State Fullerton would claw back to bring the score to 15-14 UCSB. Following a Barbeau kill, Thompson took over with the service again, bookending a Titans attacking error with two more aces, stretching the lead to 19-14.

CSUF made it interesting by scoring consecutive points with UCSB at set point, necessitating a Lantagne Welch timeout, but another Barbeau kill clinched the set for the Gauchos.

Falling behind early in the second set, UCSB put together a pair of extended runs with freshman outside hitter Spindt at the service line. Down 5-4, the Gauchos reeled off six straight points to go ahead 10-5. Later in the set, UCSB put together a four point run with Grunt at the line to take a commanding 21-12 lead.

After the halftime break, the Gauchos failed to produce a run to put them far ahead like the first and second sets, allowing Cal State Fullerton to hang around and tie the score at 16-16. At that point, Sherrard took over the serve, forcing back-to-back attacking errors from the Titans. Following a Spindt kill, Sherrard served up three straight aces off the arms of the Cal State Fullerton back row, creating a sizable gap at 22-16. Fittingly, a booming Thompson kill at 24-21 ended the match for UCSB.

The Gauchos will play their final regular season home match of the season tomorrow night when they welcome the visiting UCR Highlanders to the Thunderdome at 7 p.m. Seniors Leah Sully, Kara Sherrard, and Katey Thompson will all be honored as they play their final home match as Gauchos.