Men's Volleyball, Sports

Blocking sparks ‘Niners in five-set victory over Gauchos

Call it coincidence, but the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team has a knack for winning five-set matches this season.

The trend continued Saturday night at the Walter Pyramid, as the 49ers defeated the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (23-25, 25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 15-9) to improve to 4-1 in five-set matches.

“Well, I’d rather be out and done in three [sets],” LBSU head coach Brian Gimmillaro said with a smile. “We don’t seem to tire in those fifth [sets], we seem to get stronger.”

The 49ers (14-3, 4-1 Big West Conference) were led by freshman Caitlin Ledoux’s double-double (team- and career-high 22 kills and 14 digs) and senior Quincy Verdin (20 kills), while junior Naomi Washington added 11 kills and tightened up the LBSU blocking in the fourth set.

“I thought Naomi played well last night and tonight,” Gimmillaro said. “As good players mature, they have peaks and valleys. As you mature, they tend to iron out at a higher level and she did.”

Anchoring the defense, senior Iris Murray and sophomore Ashley Lee tied a match-high with 20 digs while freshman Lauren Minkel added 12. The 49ers also finished with 13 total team blocks, including six after the third set.

The match was also a family affair. Senior setter Nicole Vargas outdueled her sister and UCSB sophomore setter, Dana, winning the assist battle, 60-53. Nicole also posted a double-double, adding 10 digs in the match for LBSU. The sisters are the daughters of 49er assistant coach Debbie Green.

The ‘Niners were able to withstand a double-double from UCSB senior outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin, who finished with a match-high 27 kills and 20 digs. Also finishing in double figures, junior Rebecca Saraceno added 16 kills and sophomore Charlene DeHoog contributed 12 for the Gauchos.

UCSB (7-9, 3-2 Big West) was plagued by hitting errors, however. The Gauchos committed 31 in the match, including 11 in the second set and nine in the pivotal fourth set. The team finished with a .180 hitting percentage compared to LBSU’s .297 clip.

Verdin sealed the match in the fifth set, igniting the scoring with a powerful kill to spark a 3-0 run to start the set and force a Gauchos timeout.

“[Verdin] was hitting balls harder and higher than anybody had hit until that point,” Gimmillaro said.

Ahead 3-2, the senior outside hitter then came up with a block to prevent UCSB from tying the set and taking back the momentum. Verdin then added kills on back-to-back plays to put LBSU ahead, 7-3. LBSU scored four of the last five points to win the set and the match.

“In the fifth [set], you really need to push it,” said Verdin, who had to take electrolytes because of a lingering cough and burning-sensation while breathing. “That’s what practice is for and that’s what endurance is for and that’s why we practice the way we do. So, if we do go to that fifth [set], we’re going to be stronger than the other team.”

After going through the first three sets without being able to protect the net, the 49ers were sparked by Washington’s block party to tie the match at 2 and send it to a fifth set.

Trailing 15-13, Gimmillaro demonstrated the mistakes the team was making on the block during a timeout.

“He [Gimmillaro] said . . . make sure the block is set, so if they do hit it past us, our defense is right there to pick it up,” Verdin said.

Gimmillaro added, “The hitting style of one of their outside hitters [Saraceno] makes you block in an unusual pattern. In the fifth game, we blocked her correctly and she missed at that point. She hit the ball out of bounds. Different players pose different problems.”

Washington responded and was involved in three consecutive blocks in one stretch to give the 49ers a 21-16 lead. The junior middle blocker then added three kills before freshman Cat Highmark and junior Ya Chen Wang teamed up for a block to give LBSU the 25-19 win.

McLauglin paced the Gauchos with seven kills in the third set victory. Trailing 15-13, UCSB rallied back to tie the score at 22. The Gauchos surged ahead by winning four of the last five points, including a McLaughlin kill to end the set, for a 26-24 win.

The 49ers overcame communication problems and benefitted from 11 Gauchos hitting errors — five from the serve — to win the second set and tie the match at 1.

LBSU came out flat to start the second set, showcasing poor spacing on the floor. UCSB capitalized by jumping out to a 6-2 lead after a DeHoog ace to force a 49er timeout.

Trailing 8-3, the 49ers sparked a 6-1 run to jump back in the set and tie it at 9. The Gauchos couldn’t keep in the ball in bounds and committed two errors during a 4-1 LBSU run to close the set.

“I just think we calmed down and began to execute,” Gimmillaro said.

The teams traded 15 ties and seven lead changes, as the Gauchos claimed the opening set, 25-23.

In attendance, 49er great Misty May-Treanor watched with husband, Matt, a catcher for the Florida Marlins. May-Treanor was on crutches and is recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered while rehearsing for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

May-Treanor and the 1998 national championship team will be honored Oct. 24 during a 10-year anniversary celebration against UC Davis.

LBSU returns to the net against host UC Irvine at the Bren Events Center on Thursday. The first serve is scheduled at 7 p.m.

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