By MICHAEL JORGESON
SBCC SPORTS WRITER
The No. 5 SBCC women’s volleyball team shook off some early nerves and stepped up in the big moments on Tuesday night at the Sports Pavilion, sweeping No. 12 Golden West in the first round of the SoCal Regional Playoffs, 26-24, 25-17, 25-18.
The Vaqueros (23-4) allowed the Rustlers (16-8) to open all three sets with a scoring run, but they flexed their resilience each time. Opposite Caroline McCarty’s attacking presence was felt early and often, as she led all players with 13 kills (.448).
The win moves the Vaqueros past the first round for the first time since 2016.
“It’s a huge win. I think coming in as the favorite in this match, I felt a lot of pressure just wanting to make sure that we performed the way I know this team can,” Head Coach Kat Niksto said. “We talked about it; it’s OK to be nervous. It’s OK to not score the first point, but you’ve got to score the last point. I’m really proud of how we stayed focused throughout the game, and that when the pressure was on, that’s when we played our best.”
SBCC won the first set 26-24.
In the most back-and-forth set of the night, the Vaqueros found themselves fighting to get level late as they trailed 20-18. Karoline Ruiz tied things at 20-20, and McCarty placed one right down the line to put SBCC up 21-20.
The Rustlers went on a run to set themselves up with game point, 24-23. A serving error tied things, and Bella Johnson would cap off a 3-0 run to give the Vaqueros the opening set win.
Then SBCC won the second set 25-17.
The second frame saw GWC get out to another strong start, leading 10-6 midway through. That’s when the Vaqueros embarked on a 5-0 run, starring Lauren Holsted at the service line who put away two aces to help put her team up 11-10.
Santa Barbara ended the set on a 10-3 run, including a couple sweet blocks from setter Emma Crabbe and a winner off the block by Ruiz.
And SBCC wrapped up the night by winning the third set 25-18.
The Vaqueros had trailed 2-0 in each of the first two sets, but this time, they doubled their early disadvantage by giving up a 4-0 lead out of the gates. Once again, they quickly made up for a shaky start, scoring the next five to take a 5-4 advantage.
SBCC trailed 12-11 before taking complete control of the set. A pair of Jacelin McKie aces highlighted another stellar Vaquero run as they went up 22-15. Outside hitter Piper Ellbogen-Pettersen later sealed the deal with a kill on match point.
During Tuesday’s match, Caroline McCarty’s 4.33 kills per set average was her highest of the season. She had no attacking errors on the night, resulting in her second-best hitting percentage (.448) this year. She also recorded 12 digs to secure her first double-double.
Middles Paige Rudi (5 blocks) and Karoline Ruiz (4) were solid at the net once again, combining for nine of the Vaqueros’ 11 blocks.
Setter Emma Crabbe was aggressive on the attack, tying a season-best with her third six-kill performance of 2021. She also went for 34 assists and nine digs.
“We’ve talked a lot this season about what this group has been through,” Coach Kat Niksto said. “A lot of them were here during the COVID year, so even though the roster says freshman, they’re academically sophomores, and we’ve been together for two years.
“I know that this is a special team, and that we can do special things. To get this first win under our belt was kind of the kickoff that we need. I’m just so proud of how hard they work.”
Michael Jorgenson works in communications/media relations at Santa Barbara City College.