Last weekend, the UCSB women’s volleyball team was still in control of their own fate in terms of winning the Big West Conference heading into its match against Hawaii.
One week later, the Gauchos have lost that control in some ways but still hold it in others.
After losing to Hawaii in five sets (25-19, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 16-14), Santa Barbara (19-3, 9-2) fell to third place in the Big West Conference.
But, after the Rainbow Wahine (20-3, 10-2) beat Cal Poly, just two days after beating the Gauchos, Santa Barbara moved back into a tie for second with the Mustangs (16-7, 9-2) while Hawaii remains on top.
That sequence of events makes Saturday’s part two of the Blue-Green rivalry between UCSB and Cal Poly this season all that more pivotal.
With a win, UCSB will take sole control of second place and will own a complete tiebreak over Cal Poly. Additionally, the Gauchos will be just one Hawaii mistake from winning its first conference championship since 2013.
That same opportunity is on the line for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly will also be extra motivated since it was swept by UCSB on Oct. 19.
In that match, Santa Barbara was without star player Lindsey Ruddins. Tonight, Ruddins will be back in the lineup and she is playing her best volleyball of the season.
Since returning from injury, Ruddins has averaged 21.5 kills per match along with a very efficient .421 hitting percentage. She had a season-best 27 kills against Hawaii last weekend.
But, even if Ruddins did not put forth her best performance against Cal Poly, the Gauchos have the confidence that they have already beaten this Mustang team without her.
In that match, played back on Oct. 19 at the Thunderdome, every player on the floor stepped up in Ruddins’ absence.
Redshirt freshman right side Tallulah Froley led the team in kills that night with a career-high 16 and earned her first Big West Player of the Week honor for her performance. Froley is second on the team with 228 kills (2.92 k/s) and ranks fourth on the team with 49 total blocks.
Also stepping up was senior Torre Glasker, as the outside hitter did it all in that match notching a double-double with 10 kills and 16 digs, while also adding four blocks and a service ace.
“Because Lindsey is such a powerhouse and great player, we sometimes get kind of complacent and let her take control of the games, but this year we have really done a great job of everyone pitching in and not putting it all on her,” Glasker said.
“Not having her for that game, I knew I was going to need to play well and I was going to need to do my best to try to get the team together so we could rally and I wasn’t worried because I have faith in everybody on this team.”
Still, the Gauchos are certainly happy to have their star back as it will truly take a team effort to beat Cal Poly at Mott Athletics Center.
The Mustangs have won a nation-best 29 straight matches at home. Their last loss was back in 2016 against UCSB.
More than just Big West implications, however, Saturday’s match could also have NCAA repercussions.
Santa Barbara is sitting at No. 26 in the latest RPI rankings, with Hawai’i leading the Big West at No. 11. Cal Poly is the next closest in the conference at 41.
This means that with a loss, UCSB should still be able to get into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, but the seeding would be worse. On the flip side, for Cal Poly, it would likely boost its RPI ranking, making this one even more crucial for them.
“I am so excited. (I have) chills because this puts it into perspective. This is everything that we’ve been working for this season and to know that it’s within reach feels really good. All of our girls are healthy right now and we’re ready to play. Everyone has such a good mindset right now it just like makes me so excited,” Glasker said.
“I can’t wait to get up there and play our match.”
The match starts at 7 p.m. tonight at Mott Athletics Center.