SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Freshman libero Taylor Formico had 18 digs - overtaking the UCSB freshman dig record - to lead the Gauchos to victory over the visiting Cal St. Northridge Matadors on Friday night. Nearly every UCSB starter made a significant contribution as the Gauchos swept in just over an hour and a half, 25-23, 25-22, 25-16.
Formico - who entered the match at exactly 400 digs - needed just 13 to match Kelly Heenan's 2010 campaign of 413 digs. Taylor accomplished that in the the second game, and now has 14 more matches to extend that record as well as threaten some of the all-time single season dig records for UCSB and the Big West Conference. Formico is currently on pace to finish the year with 726 digs, which would be both a school and conference record for any player.
The initial game of the match was up for grabs up to the very end. There were several long rallies as both teams tried to get a feel for the opposition's defensive setup. Three players turned the tide for UCSB in the set: Formico had 11 of her 18 digs, Leah Sully established herself with seven of her match-high 16 kills, and Katey Thompson willed the Gauchos to victory by recording a cross-court kill and a solo block back-to-back with the score tied 23-23.
The play did not favor the Gauchos as much in the second game, where they found themselves in a 16-10 hole. Clawing their way back, UCSB sent Sully to the service line with a slightly smaller deficit: 20-16. Sully went on to record a pair of aces in a row, prompting a CSUN timeout. The damage was done however, as the Gauchos went on to claim seven of the next nine points, the set, and the momentum. CSUN had a .400 team hitting percentage for the set but still came up short.
UCSB jumped out to an early lead after halftime on the strength of junior outside hitter Kara Sherrard's serving. With Kara serving, UCSB won six points in a row to go ahead 9-4. That lead proved to be more than sufficient, and it was only fitting that Sherrard capped the game and match with a booming kill down the left line.
Sherrard had one of her strongest matches of late, picking up 7 kills on just 16 swings for a .375 hitting percentage - easily the highest clip she has finished at this season - and proving a dependable option for sophomore setter Ali Santi. Santi herself had 36 assists and 16 digs for her 11th double-double of the year.
Freshman middle blocker Britton Taylor was effective off the slide play, picking up 10 kills and a match-high .400 hitting percentage.
"Our aggressive serving really put the pressure on their passers and forced them into mistakes," said UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory after the win. "Leah Sully was great and Kara had a great game as well. This was a true team win."
The Matadors were led by Mahina Haina and Britney Graff, who had eight kills apiece. Defensive specialists Monica McFarland and Cindy Ortiz each finished with 14 digs.
The Gauchos return to the Thunderdome on Saturday for a matchup against No. 8 Hawai'i. The Rainbow Wahine currently top the Big West Conference standings with a perfect 6-0 record. Hawai'i Head Coach Dave Shoji, a UCSB alum, is the winningest active coach in Division-I volleyball with 1,089 wins.
Tickets for the Hawai'i match, and all home matches this season, can be found online here.