Saturday evening’s match against No. 24 Cal Poly started well enough for the UCSB women’s volleyball team.
“We passed well enough to win this match, we served aggressively, and our blocks started out strong. We just need all these things to come together for a whole game,” Head Coach Lantagne Welch said.
The Gauchos surprised the Mustangs in the first set, gutting out a 28-26 victory after trailing 6-1 early. That was as good as it got for UCSB, as Cal Poly won the next three sets 25-15, 25-16, 25-21 to take the match.
Saturday’s loss was the Gauchos’ fourth in a row, all in Big West play, dropping the team to 3-15 overall and 2-4 in conference play. The Mustangs, meanwhile, stretched their winning streak to 12 games and moved to 17-2 this season and a conference-best 7-0 mark.
Despite the wide gulf between the two records, the first set was as even as it gets. Cal Poly won the first point on a Savannah Niemen kill after an extended rally featuring several saves for both sides.
The Mustangs charged out to an early lead thanks to a couple UCSB errors but returned the favor with three of their own in short order. Lindsey Ruddins put the Gauchos ahead 15-14 with a powerful kill off an assist from setter Emilia Petrachi, but Cal Poly didn’t go quietly.
The two teams traded kills back and forth for the next few minutes, although UCSB was able to build a 22-19 lead, putting themselves at the doorstep of a surprise first-set victory.
Two kills from Torrey Van Winden and another from Raeann Greisen evened things back up, however, putting the heat back on the Gauchos.
Neither team was able to build the requisite two-point advantage, instead of exchanging kills as they pushed past the 25-point mark. Star outside hitter Ruddins contributed a handful of kills, while setter Annie Hasselmann caught the Mustangs off guard with a surprise spike to give UCSB a 26-25 lead.
Torrey Van Winden once again tied the set up after Hasselmann’s kill with one of her own, but the ensuing Ruddins kill pushed the Gauchos out ahead once again. Van Winden responded with an attack error, securing a 28-26 set victory for UCSB.
Hyped up on their strong start against likely the best team they’ll play all season, the Gauchos jumped out to a 7-5 lead in the second set. That’s when the Mustangs woke up. Cal Poly won the next 13 points, and eventually pulled out a 25-15 set victory.
The third set looked remarkably similar to the second. UCSB led 4-3 early, but then watched the Mustangs run off the next nine points. The rest of the set was fairly back and forth, but that was all Cal Poly needed to coast to a 25-16 victory.
The fourth and final set didn’t have a similar Cal Poly run, but the result was largely the same as the prior two sets. Rather than ride a sudden explosion to victory, the Mustangs simply wore the Gauchos down on their way to a 25-15 clinching win.
Ruddins, as has been the case throughout the season, led UCSB in kills with 21, the only Gaucho in double digits. Hasselmann set up the bulk of those kills, finishing with 31 assists.
Cal Poly’s sibling duo of Torrey and Adlee Van Winden proved to be too much Van Winden for UCSB to handle. The sisters combined for 39 kills, 21 for Torrey and 18 for Adlee, who had seven blocks as well.
No other Mustang cracked 10 kills, although setter Taylor Nelson did post a double-double of 47 assists and 10 digs. As a team, Cal Poly hit at a .279 rate, far outstripping the Gauchos and their .119 clip.
“I thought we had a good effort and we just have to improve,” Welch said. “We have had a lot of adversity this season but we have to take the hand we are dealt, focus on improving. We are putting the effort in and now we just want to execute.”
UCSB must now turn its attention to UC Davis, as the Gauchos travel to Davis to take on the 11-9, 3-4 Aggies for the first time this season.