It has been a long time since the UCSB women’s volleyball program has made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
It felt dramatically longer on Sunday as the team gathered to watch the selection show live on ESPNU at the ICA Auditorium. One by one, teams kept earning their bid while the Gauchos were on the outside looking in.
With the players and coaches anxiety at their peak, finally, the last pairing showed UCSB had made the 64-team field.
Immediately, the room burst into screams and cheers — they had done it, they were finally back in the tournament, a drought that goes back to 2013.
“It feels so rewarding to see your name on that screen. I know everyone’s anxiety was rising in the room because we were the very last bracket, but it’s so special for this team to have this incredible year and to get rewarded for everything that they’ve done,” head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
UCSB (22-5) will face Texas State in the first round of the tournament. The Bobcats currently possess a record of 24-8 and won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament this past weekend.
Overall, the Gauchos are in a tough bracket with No. 2 Texas. The Longhorns earned the second seed in the tournament after a 21-3 season that saw them earn a share of the Big 12 title. They will face Albany of (NY) in the first round.
Fellow Big West teams, Hawaii and Cal Poly, also made the tournament with the Rainbow Wahine earning the No. 12 seed and will host the first and second rounds while Cal Poly is in No. 3 Stanford’s bracket and will face Georgia in the first round.
Still, for Lantagne Welch, it’s exciting to be back in the NCAA tournament.
“This is what it’s all about. That’s what your goals are always are for every team and to see it fulfilled is special. We’ve got a great group that’s going to be ready to go and compete,” Lantagne Welch said.
UCSB was hoping to be in No. 3 Stanford’s bracket since it would have been less travel, but overall Lantagne Welch was happy with the draw.
“At least we’re not going to the areas that snow anymore where it may be cold or it may be different. We have to travel, but it’s not bad. It could have been further and this is really the fun of the tournament,” Lantagne Welch said.
“I told the team it is harder to get into the NCAA Tournament then it is to make the noise when you are in there, I mean look at our soccer team right now. Let’s take a lead from them and get out there and show our stuff.”
For star outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins, it seems only fitting that her career will end with a first-time appearance in the tournament.
“It’s definitely special. This is a great group of girls who I’m so appreciative of, and just spending my last year, getting to go to the NCAA tournament is something that I will never forget,” Ruddins said.
More importantly, the Gauchos are not just happy to be in the tournament. They believe they can do something truly special and become the first team since 2004 to win a round at the NCAA Tournament.
“We showed everyone in preseason how good we can play against big teams like UCLA and San Diego so we are all excited to keep it going,” redshirt freshman right side Tallulah Froley said.
“We have not made it to the NCAA’s in so long that I think it’s going to drive us forward in a tremendous way to go be that team that can beat Texas State and then go upset Texas.”
UCSB will play at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at Gregory Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.