Its third consecutive loss in straight sets, the UCSB women’s volleyball team was swept in its season finale at UC Irvine on Tuesday. UCI swept Santa Barbara by scores of 25-23, 25-14 and 25-20.
After a season-low .074 hitting percentage versus No. 8 Hawai’i, UCSB endured a new season-low .062 hitting clip in Tuesday’s match.
Also for the first time this season, UCSB had zero service aces. While it was a tough hitting performance for both programs, Santa Barbara’s inability to maintain leads was its downfall against the Anteaters.
The Gauchos finished with an eighth-place ranking in the Big West standings after earning program-lows in both overall and conference wins. UCSB ended the year with a 7-20 overall record, its first time not recording double-figure wins in a season to go along with its 3-13 Big West record.
Ending its season with three-straight home matches, UCI’s sweep of Santa Barbara earned itself a tie for fifth-place with Cal State Northridge. The Anteaters closed the year with a 13-15 overall and 7-9 Big West record.
A matchup that ended with a two-point differential in the final three sets in the first meeting between these two teams, it was a similar ending in the match’s first set on Tuesday.
It was a slow start for both teams as they were plagued by 10 errors apiece. UCSB earned a .026 hitting percentage in the opening set while Irvine had a .000 attacking percentage.
Despite the sluggish start, UCSB managed to begin the match with a 4-1 run but could not hold off the Anteaters’ comeback effort. Down 5-7, a kill by junior setter Shelley Anderson ignited Irvine’s 8-0 run to help it take a 13-7 lead. However, the Gauchos responded with a 6-1 run of their own to cut the Anteaters’ lead to one at 13-14.
A pivotal component within Santa Barbara’s trimming of UCI’s lead was senior opposite Jaylen Villanueva. Playing in her last match as a Gaucho, Villanueva registered four of her eight kills in the first set. Complementing the play of Villanueva was junior middle blocker Elizabeth Sheffield as she registered a team-high nine kills.
Although UCSB was able to come as close as one-point within UCI’s lead, the Gauchos could never tie or regain the lead as both teams traded points to close out the set. Three of Santa Barbara’s last four points came off of UCI errors and nearly forced an extra points finish but a kill by redshirt senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld secured Irvine’s 25-23 win for the 1-0 lead.
A combination of kills and UCI errors helped UCSB to take an early 8-4 lead to start the second set but the Gauchos failed to maintain their momentum as it concluded the set with a -.025 hitting percentage.
While UCSB struggled to establish its hitting stroke, Irvine gradually improved, recording a .265 hitting clip and eventually went on an 8-0 run to go up 14-9 and force a UCSB timeout. The Anteaters’ scoring rally transferred into a latter 6-1 run to close the second set with its 25-14 victory as well as extended their lead to 2-0.
Despite UCSB’s .206 attacking percentage, Irvine’s offense performed best in the third set recording a .400 hitting clip. Leading the Anteaters’ offensive surge was freshman opposite Harlee Kekaauoha.
After recording just six kills in limited playing time in the team’s first contest against the Gauchos, she was most clutch in the last set, notching six of her match-high 10 kills in addition to a tied match-high of 12 digs.
The Anteaters’ trend of playing from behind continued in the final set with UCSB taking a 4-2 lead but UCI’s consistency of scoring runs continued as it went on an 8-1 run to take a 10-5 lead.
UCSB managed to answer with a 4-0 run of its own and trailed by one, 9-10. However, Santa Barbara could not overcome this one-point margin. As the deficit lingered, the determining factor in the Anteaters’ sweep was their 4-0 scoring run to earn a 21-16 lead and was the catalyst for the team’s 25-20 win in the third set.
It was an encouraging start to the season for UCSB as it began with a 4-1 record, but the Gauchos’ inconsistencies in maintaining leads and closing matches hindered the team for the majority of the year.
UCSB will lose a total of five seniors but the particular departures of Villanueva, outside hitter Ali Barbeau and opposite Britton Taylor will be most impactful on the Gauchos’ offense as the trio were responsible for 611 of the team’s 1,214 kills.
Unable to fulfill its expectations of being a top contender in the Big West this season, the pressure will be on Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch and UCSB to retain its status as a legit competitor within the conference.