SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Gauchos earned a disappointing result in their second to last match of the season, falling to the visiting Long Beach State 49ers by a score of 3-2 (21-25, 26-28, 25-20, 26-24, 15-13) at the Thunderdome on Friday night. It was the first time this season that the Gauchos have lost after winning the first two sets.
The loss guarantees that the Gauchos (15-17, 8-9) will finish with their first losing record since 2008. Still, the Gauchos can salvage a .500 conference record with a win in their final match tomorrow night.
The Gauchos were led once again by outside hitter Leah Sully, who recorded 31 kills and 13 digs on the evening. Keeping her impressive double-double streak going by picking up her sixth straight, Leah now has performed the feat in 14 of her last 15 matches and in 24 matches overall.
Leah's 31 kills are a career high and the most by a Gaucho since Jamie Garbisch had the same amount against Wisconsin on Sep. 15, 2006. Leah now has the tenth most kills (533) in a single season in UCSB history, and the third highest total in the rally scoring era.
Freshman libero Taylor Formico added to her UCSB and Big West record by recording 28 digs. At 761 digs and with one match to go on the season, Formico has already obliterated the previous record (652 by Chelsey Lowe in 2011) by over 100 digs.
The Gauchos started off the match in great form, taking the first two games from a team that had swept them in their prior matchup. UCSB jumped out to a 9-2 run in the first game, cruising to a 1-0 lead. Stellar serving from junior outside hitter Kara Sherrard led to a pair of aces and subpar passing from the 49ers. Kara would finish the night with 10 kills, three aces, and 15 digs.
Despite her team trailing 24-20 at one point, The second game was all Leah Sully. Sully had 12 kills and an ace in the frame, accounting for just under half of her team's points for the game. Sully's 12 kills are the most by a Gaucho in a single game this season.
A bad set from LBSU setter Tara Roenicke, back-to-back kills from Sully, and a dump kill from UCSB setter Jaylen Villanueva staved off four consecutive game points for the 49ers. The two teams would do battle until Sully was able to record three consecutive kills after being down 25-26 to put her team over the top. Formico had 10 digs, the most she had in a single set, and the Gauchos hit .283 as a team, their highest on the night.
Things began to turn sour after the halftime break. LBSU Chisom Okpala began to assert her will in the match, picking up seven kills in the third game and leading her team to a .256 hitting percentage and 75% sideout percentage.
The fourth game was especially heartbreaking for the Gauchos, as the two teams were knotted throughout the set. LBSU was able to take the set on a play in which Janisa Johnson took an offbalance swing on a putback that just landed inside UCSB's back line.
Freshman middle blocker Britton Taylor saved her best play for the fifth game, when she led her team with four kills and an .800 hitting percentage. Taylor would finish the match with 11 kills, four blocks, and a .381 hitting percentage.
The two teams were even in this set as well, up through 11-11. A Janisa Johnson kill was followed by a serve from LBSU libero Libby Fontanilla that landed just inside the left sideline for an ace after the Gauchos declined to receive it. From there, Long Beach was content to trade sideout points to victory.
Freshman setter Jaylen Villanueva dished out a career-high 50 assists in the match and matched a season-best five kills as a setter.
UCSB will conclude its 2012 season with a tilt against UC Irvine tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Before the match, the Gauchos will honor a pair of very special Gauchos: Melitta Sverev – who played for the Gauchos in the 1979 and 1980 seasons – and Erica Lau – the sole senior on this year's squad.