The Saddleback College Gauchos women’s volleyball team closed out their 2017 regular season with a 19-8 record and secured third place in the Orange Empire Conference with a win at Golden West College in Huntington Beach against the Rustlers on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
“I’m proud of these kids,” said Gauchos’ head coach Brian Hughes. “I’m proud of the way they’ve fought all year and the way that they’ve battled against top teams in the state.”
The Rustlers won the first set 27-25 before the Gauchos came back to sweep the final three sets 25-17, 25-14 and 25-19 to close out the game.
“We had a few girls out but a lot of players stepped up tonight,” said freshman outside hitter Natalee Gray. “It was just really a team effort.”
The Gauchos pinpointed the first set loss to some sick players and a couple of their regular starters sitting on the bench during the set due to disciplinary action.
“I think we definitely started off slow,” said freshman opposite Helena Lawson. “I think when we come together and play as a team we do way better, which we did, and we proved it out on the court tonight.”
The win puts the Gauchos in the ninth seed as they move on to a first-round OEC playoff match at Grossmont College against the Griffins on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Natalee Gray had a team-leading 10 digs against the Rustlers on Wednesday night but can now look forward to the playoffs with her Gaucho teammates.
“With our team and how universal we are, I’m feeling pretty confident going into it,” Gray said.
Saddleback defeated Grossmont in three straight sets earlier in the regular season.
“Our game plan is going to stay the same,” coach Hughes said. “We’re physically talented enough to be able to hang with anybody in this state. We’ve been battle-tested and now it just comes down to us, and it comes down to us executing.”
Hughes has led the Gauchos to a dramatic turnaround in his third season as head coach. Saddleback women’s volleyball endured 14 straight losing seasons prior to his taking over the program. Hughes said that recruiting has been the biggest reason for the team’s rapid success.
“It’s this sophomore class especially,” Hughes said. “They are the foundation for all of this. They were so successful last year they made it possible for us to bring in some more talented freshman and mix the group together to have another successful year.”
While the Gauchos only went 5-17 in Hughes’ first season, he has since produced the first back-to-back winning seasons for Saddleback in almost 20 years and has led the team to two consecutive playoff appearances.
“Success breeds more success,” Hughes said.
Golden West celebrated this final home game of their regular season with a pre-game ceremony to honor the Rustlers players moving on after their sophomore seasons. Coach Hughes took this time to reflect on his own departing sophomores.
“This sophomore group that we have, I’m gonna miss them,” Coach Hughes said. “They’ve worked hard and given us everything they’ve had for the last two years, and it’s shown in the standings and on the floor.”
To top off the Gauchos’ outstanding season, sophomore setter Antonette Rolda, who led the team with 38 assists against Golden West in Wednesday’s game, and sophomore libero Kelli Dowell, were named First Team All-Orange Empire Conference. Freshman outside hitter Kendall Nolan, who had 12 kills against the Rustlers, and sophomore middle blocker Avie Butsko, were selected for Second Team honors.