The Rainbow Wahine still control the Big West crown, it seems, as the Gauchos were no match for the relentless Hawaii attack leveled against them Friday night.
“We didn’t take care of our opportunities and we didn’t play clean defense,” Coach Lantagne Welch explained, as the Gauchos allowed the Wahine to put on an offensive clinic all evening.
UCSB was only able to reach 20 points in the first of three sets as they were swept for the fourth time this season and the third time in the last four matches, 25-20, 25-14, 25-19.
The first set began in a close heat as the Gauchos worked their way to an early 6-5 lead. Hawaii was not to be denied, however, and a burst of scoring gave them an 11-6 advantage that would prove insurmountable for the Gauchos, who couldn’t manage to cut the deficit under three for the remainder of the game.
Beginning a match-long trend, the Rainbow Wahine bested UCSB in hitting percentage .303 to .091 in the first frame. Remarkably, that was the lowest percentage Hawaii would hit for the entire match, as they improved above .400 for the next two sets.
Hawaii provided another gut punch in the second set, as a dominant performance coupled with a sloppy UCSB showing (eight errors) led the Rainbow Wahine to their most decisive victory of the three games, 25-14.
UCSB’s hitting percentage actually dropped to .000 while the Wahine jumped to .407, accurately portraying the chasm between the two teams’ second-set performances.
The Gauchos were able to put forth a strong final set, however, finally raising their hitting percentage to a serviceable .241 and amassing double-digit kills (13).
Despite UCSB’s vastly improved effort, the 14th-ranked Hawaii squad improved for the third consecutive game, playing a virtually perfect final set on their way to a 25-19 victory.
The Rainbow Wahine boasted a hitting percentage of .448, committed only one error, and each time the Gauchos clawed their way back into contention, Hawaii was poised with a run of its own.
This impressive Hawaii team refined its attack throughout the evening, asserting itself again as the Big West’s goliath.
They received important contributions from across the roster, with senior opposite hitter Nikki Taylor, sophomore outside hitter McKenna Granato, sophomore outside hitter Casey Castillo and reserve senior middle hitter Annie Mitchem leading the team’s offensive wave.
Each of the four totaled at least seven kills, with Granato leading the pack with 13. Granato and her teammate Castillo hit a resounding .478 and .667 respectively, marking the efficiency with which the Wahine attacked the Gauchos.
McKenna Granato also collected seven digs, second on the team to first-year setter Norene Iosia (8), adding to her solid all-around performance. Nikki Taylor had four assisted blocks to go along with one solo, further contributing to Hawaii’s stellar defense.
Despite the disappointing output, several Gauchos still maintained a high level of play.
Junior outside hitter Chanel Hoffman amassed 10 kills, and despite her hitting percentage of .200, she was the only Gaucho with double-digit points in the match.
Coach Lantagne Welch saw several positives throughout the evening that should help the team during the remainder of the season.
“Chloe Allen came off the bench, followed the game plan and went after it. She had success and that was a boost for us,” Coach Lantagne Welch noted of her first-year outside hitter.
Allen has settled into her role off the bench, garnering the respect of her team and providing the Gauchos with verve in reserve heavy units.
During the final game, Lantagne Welch was impressed with another first-year, middle blocker Rowan Ennis: “[She] got hot there for a stretch and helped us in the third set.” Ennis’ three kills in the set were vital in keeping the Gauchos within reach of a victory in the final game.
Redshirt sophomore and defensive specialist Sydney Bast also caught her coach’s eye, as she “helped stabilize [UCSB’s] passing,” while digging a team-high nine attacks.
When Bast was asked after the game what about the Hawaii team had stumped the Gauchos, she noted, “they have a fast offense and we knew it coming into this game. We prepared for it all week, we just didn’t execute like we wanted to.”
She made sure to mention, though, the team’s consistently positive outlook: “It’s all good. We’re going to get them back at Hawaii.”
UCSB will look for its first conference win against Cal State Northridge on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.