After four weeks on the road, the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball will make their long awaited return to the Thunderdome when they open their Big West schedule. UCSB will play host to Long Beach State on Friday at 6pm and will be back in action on Saturday to take on UC Irvine at 7pm. Be apart of the action as the Gauchos look to continue the strong play they established during last weekend's Wildcat Classic. Ticketing information is available online or on the phone at 805-893-UCSB.
Friday, September 27, 2013 at 6 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs. Long Beach State (7-6)
at The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. 49ers: 36-61
Last meeting: L, 3-2 (Nov. 23, 2013)
Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 7 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Irvine (9-5)
at The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Anteaters: 67-10
Last meeting: W, 3-2 (Nov. 24, 13)
*All records indicate teams' standings entering the weekend
The Wildcat Classic
The Gauchos will be entering their conference schedule fresh off an impressive three-game stretch at the Wildcat Classic. In Tuscson, Ariz., UCSB easily managed a pair of sweeps against Wofford and Loyola Maryland. Freshman Ali Spindt led the Gaucho offense against the Wofford Terriers with 12 kills and swung a career-high .556 kill percentage. Against the Greyhounds, UCSB made it look easy as they held their opponents to no more than 18 points in a single set. Leah Sully paced the Gauchos with 10 kills and eight digs, while fellow senior Katey Thompson checked in with nine kills. Both players attributeed 11.5 points to the UCSB effort.
Katey Thompson led the Gaucho offense for the second weekend in a row with 30 kills, which arned her a spot on the all-tournament squad. Though her stats were impressive – she carried a 2.73 kills per set average while hitting .349 of her swings – her impact against Arizona in the fifth set could not be found on the box score. In the set, Thompson broke a 7-7 tie by scoring the Gauchos' next five kills, eventually putting UCSB ahead 14-11. Previously at the University of San Diego Tournament, the senior recorded 39 kills through UCSB's three matches. Her kill total along with her .392 hitting percentage landed her a spot on the all-tournament team.
The majority of UCSB's offensive output comes from the arms of seniors Leah Sully and Katey Thompson. Sully has has recorded double-digit kills figures in eight of UCSB's 12 matches and leads the team with 135 kills. On the backline, Sully has been pivotal for the Gauchos, having recorded double-digit dig figures in all but three matches. Thompson tops the Santa Barbara roster and is fifth in the Big West in kills per set at 3.29 – Sully follows her with 2.87. The senior duo has combined for 561 kills this season, making up 42.2 percent of UCSB's total kills.
UCSB is the fifth in the Big West with 154 total block assists. Middle blocker Phoebe Grunt leads the team in the category with 33 and also has a four solo blocks, which are the most on the team. The Gauchos' top blocking performance came against then No. 1 USC when the Women of Troy's offense was denied 14 times – a combination of one solo block and 26 block assists. Again, it was Grunt who paced UCSB in that matchup with 11 block assists.
Right Up Their Ali
Aside from Sully and Thompson, the Gauchos have seen quality production out of two underclassmen: Ali Spindt and Ali Barbeau. Spindt is tied with Thompson for the second-most kills on UCSB with 102. She also has 99 digs, good for third-most on the roster. Most recently, Spindt put up 13 kills against Arizona, matching her season-high. Barbeau has accounted for the fourth most points on the team with 103.5 through the nonconference schedule, highlighted by her 17-kill performance against Virginia.
Facing the 49ers
Long Beach State enters Big West play with a 7-6 record, 2-0 as the visiting squad. They recently went 2-1 at their own tournament as they swept Cal State Bakersfield and Prarie View A&M, while losing 3-2 to Oregon State. The 49ers' offense is led by Delainey Aigner-Swesey who is third in the league with 189 kills. The senior outside hitter's 139 digs only trail defensive specialist Tyler Jackson's 147 for most on the team. At the net, Chisom Okpala owns the 49ers' highest mark with 60 total blocks, eight solo. As a team, Long Beach State is the second-best blocking team in the Big West with a combined 141 total blocks, which trails UC Irvine by two.
Analyzing the Anteaters
UC Irvine finished their nonconference schedule with the Big West's third-best record at 9-5. They have won two of their past three outings in a three-match homestand. The Anteaters have racked up the conference's second-highest kills total with 726. Leading the Irvine attack is Aly Squires who has notched in 190 kills so far this season. She compliments her high offensive production with solid play on defense, evidenced by her 152 digs. At middle blocker, Shannon Flemming is the Anteaters' blocks leader, having compiled 62 total blocks and a 1.20 blocks per set average.
Two-Year Thunderdome Celebration Continues
In 2013-14, UC Santa Barbara will continue its two-year 35th anniversary celebration of the Thunderdome. In the Fall of 1979, the doors officially opened for UCSB's Events Center and a new era in Gaucho Athletics was born. Nicknamed the Thunderdome, the Events Center has been home for UCSB's prolific women's volleyball program since its opening. Under the bright lights of the 'Dome, the Gauchos established themselves as a perennial NCAA contender, qualifying for the national tournament 27 times including 26 straight.
UCSB women's volleyball is historically one of the most successful teams in the NCAA. The Gauchos are just one of only four teams to qualify for the first 26 NCAA Tournaments. Overall, UCSB reached 27 NCAA Tournaments, which includes multiple Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen berths. Before the NCAA recognized women's volleyball, UCSB was one of the top teams in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), reaching its national tournament Final Four three times including two third place finishes.