September 29, 2013

Gauchos Sweep Anteaters for First Big West Victory

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UCSB shook off a 3-2 loss to Long Beach State with a convincing 3-0 sweep over UC Irvine in the Thunderdome on Saturday night. It was the first time Santa Barbara blanked Irvine since the 2011 season. 

UCSB improves to 6-8 overall, and 1-1 in Big West play. The Anteaters fall to 9-7, and are now 0-2 in conference.

The Gaucho offense was instrumental in the sweep, as the team collectively hit a .394 kill percentage. Leading the attack were Katey Thompson and Ali Spindt with 10 kills apiece, while middle blocker Phoebe Grunt checked in with eight. 

"Tonight we had just a very productive offensive night with so many players contributing," UCSB Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "I give a lot of credit to our passing and setting, which allowed for our hitters to be smart when attacking." 

Jaylen Villanueva for the second night in a row gave the Gauchos a threat coming off the bench. She finished the night with five kills and five block assists, with perhaps the second game being her best when she found a pair of kills and four block assists.

In the first set, the Anteaters took an early lead 8-4 lead, primarily from service aces. The Gauchos shrugged off Irvine's four straight points with a 5-1 run to tie the game at nine. UCSB would eventually take pull out ahead with a 21-19 advantage. 

From there, the Gauchos went on to score the final four points of the set, securing the 1-0 lead. Spindt provided the run's exclamation mark with the set-clinching kill at 25-19.

In the second set, Thompson recorded a kill to break a 3-3 tie and give the Gauchos their first lead of the game. UCSB never gave up their lead after that play and even had a set point opportunity at 24-18.

The Anteaters kept UCSB on its toes, though, and rattled off three straight points. The comeback effort would not be enough, though, as Hanna Nielson made her only kill of the night to give UCSB the second set victory.

The third set showed both teams competing in a neck-and-neck race for the final point. With Irvine looking to force a fourth set, they gave the Gauchos a game where a two-point lead would be the most one team would have over the other.

Eventually, the Gauchos had match point at 24-23. However, UC Irvine's Cassidy Pickrell made a kill to force the set to go into extra points. The Gauchos decided not to delay their sweep any more than that.

An Anteater mishandle put UCSB in another match point scenario and, this time, Katey Thompson threw down the game winning final kill from Villanueva.

"We've improved greatly from our very first match," Lantagne Welch noted. "We gained a lot of experience from our difficult nonconference schedule and the good thing is we're taking steps in the right direction."

The Gauchos will wrap up their three-match home stand next Saturday when they host their top-rival Cal Poly at the Thunderdome at 7 p.m.

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