Friday was not the first time this season the UCSB women’s volleyball team was up 2-1 on the road against a ranked opponent.
Back on Nov. 1, the Gauchos were up 2-1 at then No. 21 Hawaii. Unfortunately for UCSB, it would get no further, losing in five sets essentially ending its chance to win a Big West title in the process.
Friday night inside Gregory Gymnasium, Santa Barbara was in the same spot, only against arguably a tougher opponent.
After three sets, UCSB had the No. 2-seeded Texas Longhorns on the ropes with terrific performances in sets two and three to put them just one set victory away from earning one of the biggest wins in program history.
Unfortunately, the Gauchos yielded the same result on Friday as it did in early November, losing in five sets to the Longhorns by scores of 25-22, 19-25, 18-25, 25-18, 15-10 eliminating them from the NCAA Tournament.
“They have an incredible amount of talent and we left everything we had out on the floor and I am so proud of our team for everything they did tonight. We had them a little scared and questioning themselves and we just left it all out on the floor,” UCSB coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
“The girls left their hearts out on the floor and that is what sports are all about.”
It certainly took everything UCSB had to even push Texas to five sets.
The Gauchos finished the night with a .287 hitting percentage which is well above their season average, tallied five service aces to highlight a strong serving night and totaled 72 digs, 14 more than Texas.
UCSB even got a stellar performance from its star senior outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins who had 23 kills on a .388 hitting clip and also dug out 16 balls and had one block.
Freshman Tasia Farmer also stepped up when the team needed her most totaling 13 kills, the same amount Tallulah Froley registered.
Setters Olivia Lovenberg and Romoni Vivao combined to dish out 68 assists, three more than Texas’ high powered offense.
Ultimately, however, what Texas did in the fourth and fifth sets was just rely on its offense, which came into the night ranked No. 1 in the country.
Overall, the Longhorns hit .346 in the victory with sophomore outside hitter Logan Eggleston earning 22 kills and senior outside hitter Micaya White adding another 17.
Still, just giving the No. 2 seed a run for their money showcased how far this program has come.
“We just bought in and improved as the season went on and we peaked at the right time. We knew we had to play great against Texas State and we played even better tonight. That is just a great Texas team,” Lantagne Welch said.
In fact, UCSB’s second-set win was the first time Texas had dropped a frame in the NCAA Tournament since 2016.
The second game was close throughout, but at 17-17, UCSB used a 6-1 run with three kills from Froley, two from Ruddins and one from Lovenberg, to take a 23-18 lead. A kill by Rowan Ennis gave the Gauchos the frame.
In the third set, UCSB outdid themselves shooting at an outstanding .541 clip and tallying 18 kills with just one error to really lead the set throughout. After being tied at 7-7, Santa Barbara used a 15-7 run to lead 22-14 and held on from there to put Texas on the ropes.
Down 2-1, however, the Longhorns woke up, and so did the crowd inside Gregory Gym. The Texas fans were ruthless in the cheering of its Longhorns.
“It was awesome. It was so loud and you could not hear at all but that’s what you want as a true competitor. It was beautiful and I know the girls were having fun and so was I, it was great,” Lantagne Welch said.
Over the final two sets, the Longhorn faithful had a lot to cheer about. After being held to a combined .238 hitting percentage in the second and third games, Texas rallied back to earn a combined clip of .431 over the final two frames tallying a combined 28 kills and two errors.
Eighteen of those kills came in the third game alone as the Longhorns committed no errors in a set they absolutely dominated. Their strong serving also hurt the Gauchos as they were unable to stay in system because they could not get a good first touch.
From there, Texas took that momentum into the fifth set. UCSB held on as long as it could but could never string a pair of kills together.
Tied at 7-7, Texas got the final kill before the teams switched sides, then outpaced Santa Barbara 7-3 in the final moments of the match to take the decisive game 15-10.
While Friday’s loss is a tough one to swallow, looking ahead, this could just be the start of something great at UCSB.
While the Gauchos lose Ruddins, senior Torre Glasker and seniors Charlie Robinson and Chloe Allen, they keep some real good talent such as Froley, Lovenberg, Vivao and Farmer as well as freshman Deni Wilson, and Ennis.
That combined with other players who have contributed or could contribute in the future show that Friday’s upset bid might not have been a fluke, but rather a sign of things to come.
“We talked in the locker room about what our seniors have meant to us and how they have made this program what it is and now it’s our younger players’ job to carry that tradition and continue building UCSB into a special program,” Lantagne Welch said.
Of course, a lot of this would not be possible without the play of Ruddins, who, even when the Gauchos were in the midst of some of their worst seasons in program history, was still one of the best players in the country.
She finishes her career with 1,970 kills and 1,031 digs. She has the most kills since the rally-scoring era and the second-most kills in program history trailing only Roberta Gehlke who had 2,153.
“She’s been incredible. I cannot say enough about her. She was huge in the big moment and had 23 tonight against that big blocking team. To grow with her in her career I am so proud and her legacy will live on. She set the standard for Gaucho volleyball,” Lantagne Welch said.