Former Gaucho volleyball great Roberta Gehlke, is the first "Legend of the Dome."
Paul Wellman

All over the sports landscape, this is the season of living dangerously. Other than an 11-0 rout in Philadelphia, the Dodgers’ and Angels’ postseason games have been fraught with late-inning and extra-inning drama. You can dub any number of college teams the “Cardiac Kids.” Two candidates are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish-five consecutive football games going down to the final play-and the UCSB dames of volleyball.

The Gaucho women have made a habit of going the distance to decide their volleyball matches. Last Friday night, they overcame Pacific in five games, extending their record at the Thunderdome to 7-0, and the next night, they saw the streak snapped in a five-game loss to UC Davis.

“We’ve been living too much on the edge,” UCSB’s Rebecca Saraceno said after the Gauchos went over the precipice Saturday night. They appeared to be on safe ground after they crushed Davis 25-14 in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. But the Aggies won the fourth game 25-21, and in the final set, they survived two UCSB match points (at 14-13 and 16-15) and scored the last three points to win 18-16.

Saraceno, a 6’2″ senior from Redondo Beach, continued her torrid hitting. She had 28 kills, after pounding 27 against Pacific, and she also played solid defense with 19 digs in the two matches. On Monday, the Big West Conference named her its player of the week for the third time this year. Saraceno also received a national player-of-the-week award in September. “I can’t ask her to do any more,” UCSB coach Kathy Gregory said. “The girl is carrying us on her back.”

Saraceno does have a supporting cast, most significantly Dana Vargas, the junior setter. Vargas is the daughter of an Olympic volleyball player-her mother, Debbie Green, who sits on the Gaucho bench as a volunteer assistant-and Olympic water polo player Joseph Vargas.

The Gaucho women are in the thick of the Big West race. They have knocked off three teams projected to finish ahead of them in the standings-UC Irvine, Cal Poly, and Pacific-but UC Davis has emerged as a surprise team. The Aggies beat the Gauchos for the first time last Saturday.

Gregory, in her 35th season, is the only women’s volleyball coach UCSB has ever had. She led the Gauchos into 26 consecutive NCAA tournaments before missing out the last two years, and she is hankering to get back. Notorious as a harsh critic, she has taken a supportive, holistic approach with the current team-“body, mind, and soul,” she said-and it’s been working. The Gauchos, with a 14-5 record, are off to their best start in five years.

Their next home matches will be October 30-31 against Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. The 30-year-old Thunderdome has been spruced up, its floor repainted and its rafters festooned with dozens of banners. The most prominent banner was unfurled on the back wall Saturday night: an image of former Gaucho volleyball great Roberta Gehlke, the first “Legend of the Dome.” UCSB will name four more “Legends” during the basketball season, two each from the men’s and women’s teams.

Gehlke is the queen of triple crowns. She was a three-time All-American spiker, and she has received three honors since graduating in 2000: Her number 6 was retired, she went into the Gaucho Athletic Hall of Fame, and now she’s a certified Legend. Unfortunately, Roberta Lenert (her married name) was unable to attend the latest ceremony after traveling out from Texas because her young children came down with the flu. Her parents, Bob and Barbara, were on hand.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: There are four high school football games in town Friday night (Oct. 23): Dos Pueblos at Santa Barbara (both teams starving for a victory); Ventura at San Marcos (the host Royals try to bounce back from a St. Bonaventure bruising); Nordhoff vs. Bishop Diego at SBCC (Bishop tries to pick up where it left off last week, when it outscored Oaks Christian 6-0 in the fourth quarter of a 65-6 loss); and Oaks Christian brings its all-star cast to Carpinteria (Wayne Gretzky’s kid Trevor should see action in relief of OC’s starting QB Nick Montana: “Gretzky sneaks, he scores!”). : SBCC tries to carry on Saturday evening against L.A. Pierce after losing QB John Uribe (dislocated elbow). : UCSB’s nationally ranked soccer team hosts Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. on Saturday. : Tuesday (Oct. 27) features two of the very best prep matchups in town: Santa Barbara at Dos Pueblos in boys water polo (3:15pm) and Dos Pueblos at Santa Barbara in girls volleyball (6:30pm).


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