The UCSB women’s volleyball team’s season came down to the wire in its first-round NCAA tournament match against BYU last night.
The Gauchos (19-12 overall) and the #22 Cougars (25-5) played an epic three-hour match that culminated in a fifth and final deciding game. After losing the first two games, BYU rallied to win the next three games, including a 15-12 fifth game victory to take the first-round match 27-30, 30-32, 30-27, 30-21, 15-12. Narrowly missing out on the upset is a tough way to end the season for Santa Barbara, which was making its 26th consecutive appearance in the tournament.
“We went out swinging,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “It’s just a shame that we didn’t have enough offense; It was a barnburner, but anytime you lose its disappointing.”
The match started out close, with BYU holding an early edge. After tying the game at 7-7, junior middle blocker Brett Quirarte gave the Gauchos their first lead with a kill set up by freshman Stephanie Brandt, who collected 58 assists in the match, for the 8-7 advantage. Four straight points put the Gauchos up 25-21. Santa Barbara was able to maintain its edge for the next few points, taking the game 30-27.
Like the first game, the second was played fairly evenly with neither team able to break away early. Eventually, a ball handling error by Cougar setter Amy Schlauder resulted in a point for the Gauchos that gave them a 26-25 lead. BYU tied the game at 29-29, and then took a 30-29 lead, but UCSB rallied for three straight points to grab their second straight win from BYU, 32-30.
BYU went up by as many as five points in the third game when it took a 25-20 lead and eventually won the game 30-27. The Cougars played a dominant fourth game, which slipped out of the Gauchos’ hands when BYU went on a 5-0 run to take an 18-13 lead. The lead continued to build for BYU, which took the game 30-21 to force a fifth and deciding frame. The Gauchos were out hit dramatically in the fourth, with BYU hitting a .245 clip and Santa Barbara posting a meager .093.
“I think the tide turned in the third game,” Gregory said. “They started to play much better and by the fourth game they definitely got into their rhythm offensively.”
In the 15-point fifth game, BYU seemed to have control early on, continuing its offensive onslaught to take a 6-0 lead. UCSB did not fold though, and eventually crawled to within two with a kill by senior middle blocker Olivia Waldowski to make the score 9-7. Santa Barbara made it as close as 12-11 with a kill by Quirarte, but the Cougars were able to hang on to win the game 15-12 and take the match three games to two.
“This team had to fight really hard to get into the tournament and I couldn’t have been prouder,” Gregory said. “We went down fighting and played hard but we couldn’t come up with enough offense at the end.”