Leonard Paulasa / The Daily Nexus

A heartbreaking loss to No. 2 Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament has forced the exit of the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball team.

The 2-3 loss comes just a day after the heroics of Tallulah Froley and Lindsey Ruddins put the Gauchos on top of Texas State in the first round, a game that gave UCSB their first tournament win since 2004. 

In that game, Froley scored a career-high 18 kills while Ruddins posted yet another double-double with 18 kills and 13 digs. 

Olivia Lovenberg was Olivia Lovenberg and provided 30 assists while Zoe Fleck’s 26-dig performance was the second-highest of her career. 

“The idea on defense is that every ball is yours,” Fleck said after the game. “I feel like I went into the match with a really, really good mindset. I know who my hitters are, I know what my responsibilities are and every single ball on this court is my ball and I’m going to support my hitters. I’m going to dig these balls so that our offense can [do its job]. It was really just all a mindset for everyone on this team.”

UCSB proceeded to topple Texas State in digs 70-54, making for a much stronger foundation for the offense to work through. 

Janell Fitzgerald of the Bobcats, who posted 12 kills at a .267 rate, was the only member of her team to score more than 10 kills. The Gauchos, meanwhile, had two such players in Froley and Ruddins and they combined for 36 kills and a .335 efficiency. 

A seesaw first set eventually settled with both teams locked at 20-20 before the Gauchos would end it with a 5-1 run.

Texas State garnered quite a bit of momentum and found themselves up 19-13 late in the second. A timeout by Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch halted the Bobcat offense, and another magical 12-2 run by the Gauchos won them the second set. 

UCSB went on to win 3-1 (25-21, 25-21, 20-25, 25-14) and were now headed for the second round with a very tough Texas team standing in their way. 

Holding a 2-1 lead after three sets, the Gauchos (23-6) became the first team to win two sets against Texas (23-3) at home this season, and it was the first time Texas lost a set at home in the NCAA Tournament since 2016.

Texas broke the game of pong with a four-point run to take a 20-17 advantage late in the first. And with that extra margin for error, they would go on to take the opener 25-22. 

The Gauchos settled in and found victory in each of the next two sets.

“We really handled the ball well and we ran it fast and we were really in sync with that,” Welch pointed out postgame.

 The Longhorns hit just .242 in the third while the Gauchos cruised to a phenomenal .548 with 18 kills and just one error. 

With a 2-1 lead over the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, UCSB was looking mightily tenacious and held a significant advantage in hitting percentage. 

Despite possibly the best start any UCSB fan could have hoped for, Texas found a way to put together a comeback.

The Longhorns shot an errorless .462 with 18 kills to take the fourth set after having only trailed 1-0 at the start.

They would ultimately take the fifth set, and the match, with a 15-10 victory. 

As one of the greatest players in UCSB history, Ruddins will end her career as the all-time leader in kills, points and attempts in the rally scoring era and second all-time in kills in program history. 

“It means so much to be a Gaucho, being here for the last five years, just seeing this program take such huge strides,” she said postgame. “Five years ago we were not at this point, and just to be able to see the progress and to be able to witness where this program is going is incredible and I hope that I impacted all of my teammates in a positive way.”

It’s always tough to say good-bye, but it is no secret that losing the greats hurts a different way. UCSB will also be sending thank you cards to Torre Glasker, Chloe Allen and Charlie Robinson. 

Fortunately for the Gauchos, they have a bright future in store, safe in the hands of a young core in sophomores Fleck and Lovenberg and freshmen Froley, Romoni Vivao and Deni Wilson, whose performances revealed they are very much ahead of their time. 

UCSB ends this season with the most wins, and its first NCAA tournament win, since 2004. 

That’s definitely something to be proud of.