UCSB outside hitter Michelle Ohwobete hits over the block of Amber Igiede (3) and Kate Lang of Hawaii. Ohwobete had 17 kills in a five-set loss. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

A second straight 20-win regular season will go without a postseason for the UCSB women’s volleyball team.

Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said a win over Big West leader Hawaii on Saturday night could have put them in the running for some kind of post-season competition. 

The Gauchos went toe-to-toe with Hawaii for five sets, but some ball control issues down the stretch cost them and they lost their regular-season finale, 23-25, 25-20, 26-28, 25-18, 15-11, at the Thunderdome.

The result gave Hawaii the outright Big West title with an 18-1 record (21-6 overall) and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, while ending UCSB’s season at 20-10 overall and 16-4 in the conference.

“We needed to win this one tonight and get a little help, so it ends with this loss, unfortunately,” Welch said of the season. “We were right there, super close this season again. I’m just really proud of this group for battling and playing with everyone.”

It’s the third straight 20-win season for Welch’s Gauchos. They went 21-11 and finished second to Hawaii in the Big West last year and didn’t make a post-season appearance. In 2019, the year before the cancelled COVID season, they went 23-6, received an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round.

Tasia Farmer gave UCSB its last lead in the fifth set, 7-6, putting away a bump set from Sophie Messinger. 

Tiffany Westerberg sided out for the Rainbow Wahine with a kill on a slide play and Hawaii took the lead for good on a dig by Caylen Alexander followed by a kill from Riley Wagoner.

Hawaii then capitalized on some Gaucho ball control problems as Westerberg put away another ball for a 9-7 advantage.

“We weren’t as clean as we needed to be in the critical points and that’s what happens against a good team. You need to be on in all those phases,” Welch said.

Deni Wilson gave UCSB hope with a block, but Hawaii responded  with consecutive points on a service error and a stuff block by middle Amber Igiede following a bad Gaucho pass.

Riley Wagoner of Hawaii slams the ball off UCSB blocker Deni Wilson (20) as Briana McKnight assists.

Riley Wagoner of Hawaii slams the ball off UCSB blocker Deni Wilson (20) as Briana McKnight assists. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Hawaii went ahead 14-10 after Wagoner and Igiede combined on a block followed by a Gaucho hitting error.

Wagoner finished the match with a kill at an extreme angle.

Wagoner and Igiede each had 18 kills, hit .333 and .417, respectively, and combined for 41 points on the night. Wagoner also shined on defense with 17 digs. Alexander had 16 kills on a .286 hitting percentage and Braelyn Akana added 10 kills on .318 hitting. The Rainbow Wahine hit .318 as a team. 

Setter Kate Lang was solid, dishing out 55 assists to go with six kills, two aces, two blocks assists and 17 digs.

Michelle Ohwobete led the Gauchos with 17 kills on a .222 hitting percentage. Tallulah Froley had 16 kills and hit. 441, Farmer blasted 15 kills on .519 hitting and Briana McKnight finished with 10 kills. 

UCSB hit .284 as a team.

“Both teams were hitting like .300 after the fourth set, so we were right there. We just needed to control the ball. They did that better in the fifth set,” Welch said.

Defensively, Peed played a terrific match, picking up 20 digs, and Mehana Ma’a had 13. Nia Correal led the team with five blocks.

Hawaii coach Robyn Ah Mow said her team had an up and down performance in the intense match.

“I thought Santa Barbara played a great game, but our girls picked it up at the right times, and at the end just put their foot on the pedal and won it,” she said.

The first set was tight all the way through. Froley gave UCSB a 24-23 lead by burying a bump set from Ma’a Mehana. On the next play, a deep serve by Macall Peed gave Hawaii problems and that led to a putaway by Ohwobete for the win.

Hawaii squared the match at 1-1. The Rainbow Wahine went on a 5-0 run behind the hitting of Igiede and the serving of Kendra Ham to break a 14-14 tie.

The third set was wild. UCSB roared to a 13-5 lead only to have Hawaii chip away and tie the score at 22. There were three more ties before Wilson put the ball down in the middle and Nia Correl scored on a tough serve for a 28-26 victory and a 2-1 edge in sets.

Hawaii regrouped and took control of the fourth set after a net violation pulled the Gauchos to within one, 13-12.  Igiede and Alexander’s hitting and the serving of  Kate Lang keyed a 7-2 run to put the Rainbow Wahine in position to force a fifth set

“I think these girls have grown,” Mow said of this year’s squad. “They’re just a really tight-knit group and they just starting to get it, not fully yet. But all the things that we’re trying to tell them, they’re starting to get it.”

Welch said her team made tremendous growth during the season.

“I’m really proud of the progress we made,” she said. “We really improved as a team, maybe more than any team I’ve ever coached.”

Avatar photo

Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.