It was a bittersweet farewell for the seniors of the UCSB women’s volleyball team who played in their last home match on Saturday. The Gauchos hosted No. 8 Hawai’i and were swept in their Senior Night match at the Thunderdome.
UCSB’s scoring rallies towards the endings of the final two sets occurred too late as the Rainbow Wahine won in straight sets of 25-16, 25-21 and 25-19.
Hawaii’s size at the net proved to be a definite advantage in defending the Gauchos’ attack. While UCSB’s eight blocks was one more than Hawaii’s seven, the Rainbow Wahine held the Gauchos to a season-low .074 hitting average.
“They [Hawai’i] are a big, physical, strong team,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “They rely a lot on serving tough and a big block. They definitely had us beat in some positions with some size and that’s why you’ve got to take speed and quickness and beat them that way. We weren’t efficient enough.”
The road trip to Santa Barbara was the Rainbow Wahine’s last match of the season. This year’s Big West Champions, Hawai’i finished with an undefeated conference record of 16-0 and will enter the NCAA Tournament with a 26-1 overall record.
It will also enter the postseason with a 21-match win streak, its longest since winning 26-straight in 2011. Hawaii’s win over UCSB in straight sets was its third consecutive sweep of a team and its 16th sweep of the season.
With great size, not only did Hawai’i dominate at the net but it also had a powerful attack. The Rainbow Wahine established an aggressive swing on the ball early in the match, recording a .393 hitting clip in the first set.
Santa Barbara showed signs of being able to defend Hawaii’s attack as it trailed 4-5. However, it was up until this point that Hawaii’s 5-0 run would increase its lead to 10-4, forcing a UCSB timeout. The Rainbow Wahine’s largest lead was 11 points and eventually resulted in them taking a 1-0 lead with a 25-16 win in the first set.
Leading Hawai’i on the offensive end was junior opposite Nikki Taylor. Although she tallied a match-high 11 kills, she finished with a .111 hitting percentage, her third lowest in a match this season.
“I thought we did some really good things out there,” Lantagne Welch said. “We passed well, we had a few big hitters. We held their best player [Taylor], she struggled tonight.”
UCSB’s ability to contain Taylor was most effective in the second set as it held Hawai’i to a .069 hitting clip.
Still, a -.156 hitting percentage and 12 errors plagued Santa Barbara in the set, allowing Hawai’i to capitalize on the Gauchos’ mistakes to take a 6-0 lead. Able to extend their lead to 20-9, it seemed like the Rainbow Wahine were destined to earn a blowout set victory.
Despite the 11-point deficit, the Gauchos responded with a 6-2 run to trim Hawaii’s lead to 22-15. Senior opposite Jaylen Villanueva finished with a team-high seven kills. In spite of UCSB’s comeback effort, Hawai’i built upon its lead with a kill by Taylor and a block to earn the set-point lead at 24-15.
But a 5-0 scoring run helped Santa Barbara to delay Hawaii’s pursuit of taking a 2-0 lead, causing the Rainbow Wahine to call a timeout. However, another kill by Taylor and a block by sophomore middle blocker Emily Maglio and sophomore setter Kendra Koelsch secured Hawaii’s 25-21 win.
Another commanding start highlighted the Rainbow Wahine’s opening of the third set as they took an 8-2 lead, leading to a Gauchos’ timeout. While both teams traded points, UCSB could never overcome Hawaii’s lead and were forced to call a second timeout while down by a score of 13-20.
Helping spark Santa Barbara’s last chance at avoiding being swept was freshman outside hitter Devin Joos as her kill ignited the Gauchos’ 5-0 run to cut Hawaii’s lead to three at 18-21. Joos and junior middle blocker Phoebe Grunt both registered six kills and both recorded a .308 hitting percentage.
However, the momentum remained with Hawai’i as it needed four points to end the match. Earning these last four points was no challenge as the Rainbow Wahine ended the third set with a .500 hitting percentage to take the 25-19 win to close the match.
Santa Barbara will end its season on Tuesday, Nov. 24th as it will face UC Irvine at 7:00 p.m. in the Bren Events Center.