The UCSB women’s volleyball team had a lot of adversity to overcome on Saturday.
Not only were the Gauchos coming off a tough 3-0 loss to Hawaii the week before, but they also had less than 48 hours to prepare to play without senior Lindsey Ruddins.
Ruddins, the team’s star outside hitter, was out due to an undisclosed injury suffered in practice.
To make matters worse, a hobbled UCSB was welcoming Big West best Cal Poly to the Thunderdome.
“I mean we had one day to prepare for that so we knew we just wanted to have a balanced attack,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
Well, the Gauchos got that balanced attack on offense and an even better defensive effort on Saturday as Santa Barbara outgunned Cal Poly from the start to stun them in four sets with scores of 25-19, 25-21, 15-25, 25-21.
With the win, UCSB (16-2, 6-1) is now in complete control of the Big West and thus in charge of its own destiny with nine games to go this season. Cal Poly (13-6, 6-1) still owns a tiebreaker over No. 22 Hawaii who is 5-2 in the Big West.
Redshirt freshman Tallulah Froley paced the offense with a career-high 16 kills, but every single Gaucho that saw action made huge contributions throughout the night.
“Tonight was our chance to step up as a team. We have to be prepared for any situation and we have a deep team for a reason and tonight we came in and killed it,” Froley said.
Froley also had a career-high 40 total attacks on the night as she was the teams’ number one option when on the floor.
“My arm is tired but it hasn’t hit yet. It’ll hit tomorrow,” Froley said.
“But it was amazing to play this well tonight. It felt really good to do this after our loss to Hawaii last week. We came out a lot more strong today which is really fun.”
Senior outside hitter Torre Glasker also stepped up huge on Saturday, tallying 10 kills, digging out 16 balls and blocking four shots.
“That’s a senior captain stepping up. (We were) asking her to do more today and she just handled that beautifully and just embraced it,” Lantagne Welch said.
Glasker was also a huge component in shutting down Cal Poly’s leading hitter, Maia Dvoracek. The junior Mustang, who averages 3.89 kills per set ranking fourth in the Big West, had a match-high 19 kills but on 52 total attacks. She also had nine errors and was held to a .192 shooting clip, a season-low against Big West opponents.
“We knew that we needed to come out with a lot of heart if we wanted to win this game and our team did a really great job tonight,” Glasker said.
Despite being down their best player, the Gauchos sure came out firing as if they didn’t even miss her. It helped that Cal Poly committed eight errors, but UCSB tallied 12 kills in the set, with Froley firing five of those.
Santa Barbara raced out to an 8-3 lead and kept a comfortable distance all the way through. Up 24-19, freshman middle blocker Deni Wilson notched one of her team-high six block assists on the night to seal the set for the Gauchos.
UCSB outblocked Cal Poly 13-7 on the night.
The second set was much closer. There were 11 ties throughout the frame, but the final one would be at 19-19.
A kill from sophomore Gigi Ruddins gave UCSB a 20-19 lead. Ruddins then exited the match to make way for junior Kobie Jimenez.
Jimenez, who played a season-high three sets on Saturday, went to the end line to serve. She hit a sinker ball that could not be controlled by Cal Poly for an ace. On her very next serve, she hit a floater to the back left corner which fell for another ace. She immediately put her hands on her head, overcome with joy, as she gave UCSB a 22-19 lead.
“I was very surprised, I mean I was very cold, but I was happy with myself,” Jimenez said.
“Having a supportive bench as we do, it’s really easy to go out there and serve your best serve. I feel like anyone off of our bench could get called and do their best, I just happened to go out and get those aces and it felt good to help my team out.”
A kill by sophomore setter Olivia Lovenberg, her only one of the night, followed by a kill from Glasker and finally a service error from Cal Poly gave UCSB the 2-0 advantage.
Up 2-0, UCSB was confident but looked nervous. The team came out playing “afraid to lose instead of playing to win,” Lantagne Welch said.
Tied at 12-12, the Mustangs went on an 8-1 run to lead 21-13. Dvoracek came alive tallying six kills on 12 attempts with no errors. As a team, Cal Poly hit .333 in the third and tallied 15 kills.
A final powerful kill from Dvoracek gave CP the set win.
“We got tentative in that third set and we got a little bit back on our heels and I said, no, we need to go and be the attackers now and be the aggressive ones,” Lantagne Welch said.
Lantagne Welch’s words sparked the UCSB offense in the fourth set. The Gauchos became the aggressors as they shot a game-best .458, tallied a game-best 14 kills with and had a set-low three errors in the fourth set.
Froley, who had five kills in the second and third sets combined, had six kills on seven attempts in the fourth frame.
After taking a 10-8 lead, UCSB never led by less than two the rest of the way through. Up 17-13, sophomore libero Zoe Fleck somehow saved a serve that hit off of Ruddins and looked like it would easily fall for an ace.
“When you see a ball that’s that high going that far in the crowd you’re kind of like… I wish I could save that. But we were in such a positive and intense mindset this whole match and I was like ‘I’m getting this ball whatever it takes. I’ll deal with the consequences after but I am getting it,” Fleck said.
Fleck somehow got to it and tapped it to Glasker who got it over the net. Eventually, the Gauchos won the long rally to go up by five.
Things got tense, however, at 23-20 as Cal Poly had ripped off three-straight points. Glasker put away two kills to stop any hopes of a fifth set.
UCSB hopes to get its star outside hitter soon, but if Saturday proved one thing it is that the Gauchos are a dangerous team.
And, if Ruddins could return next week, it will be with the added bonus of knowing that the Big West has to go through Santa Barbara now.
“It feels really good (to be in first place). It’s no fun having to work from behind. Now we just got to keep working to try to stay on top,” Glasker said.
UCSB will have two road matches against UC Davis and UC Riverside next week.