Gauchos celebrate
UCSB players celebrate after scoring a point against UCLA in the Gauchos’ sweep of the Bruins. (Felipe Garcia / Noozhawk photo)

It was all working for the UCSB women’s volleyball team in Wednesday night’s match against UCLA at the Thunderdome.

The Gauchos passed well, kept plays alive with their defense and ran a balanced attack to post a rare sweep and victory over the Bruins (25-16, 25-16, 28-26) and improve to 9-1 on the season.

It was their first victory over UCLA since 1998 and only their eighth all-time. The Bruins lead the series 36-8.

“We know that we have a very good team this year and we’re having a lot of success, but it is special to take down UCLA,” UCSB coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “And to do it in three sets says a lot about the level of volleyball we’re playing right now.”

The third-set victory put an exclamation point on the win as the Gauchos rallied from a 24-21 deficit.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall a few times this season, even in five-set matches, and that’s been good experience for us because we’ve been able to find ways to persevere. And it happend again tonight in sort of a bigger moment.”

Senior Lindsey Ruddins led a potent UCSB attack with 17 kills and freshman Tallulah Froley was a force on the outside, making UCLA pay for its one-on-one blocking tactic by putting away 15 kills on a blistering .667 hitting average. 

The Gauchos hit .394 as a team, with only nine hitting errors.

“Sometimes I’m afraid to look at the numbers because you’re like: ‘Can we sustain this.’” said Welch. “But our offense was smooth from start to finish tonight, and we have so many people clicking. Our setters are working really well, moving people around and keeping it fast.”

Deni Wilson

Deni Wilson of UCSB blasts a spike through the UCLA block. Wilson had nine kills and hit .571. (Felipe Garcia / Noozhawk photo)

Froley burned the Briuns with smart hits down the line and stunned their defense with a crushing spike coming up the middle during the second set.

“The biggest thing Tallulah did tonightwas she saved us when we weren’t quite in rhythm. She made really good decisions and scored out of it because she was really smart about what she tried to do in those situations,” said Welch.

Setters Olivia Lovenberg and Romoni Vivao ran a smooth offense as they combined for 42 assists. Lovenberg led the team with 24.

Their jobs were made easier with superb passing. The Gauchos had no serve receive errors in the match.

“Lindsey, Torre (Glasker) and Zoe (Fleck) just handled that so well for us. They’re so steady and allow us to do things we want to do offensively because they take care of the ball.

Fleck, the libero, was a firebrand on defense. She drew oohs from the crowd when she dug big blasts by the Bruin hitters and dived on the floor to keep plays alive. She finished the match with 14 digs, including one late in the third set against UCLA’s 6-7 Sabrina Smith.

“She is a great defender and she isn’t afraid of anything,” said Welch. “She shined tonight. She was really consistent and we needed that.”

Glasker also had big night on defense, picking up 10 digs.

UCLA (5-4) was led Savvy Simo and Mac May with 13 and 12 kills, respectively. The Bruins hit .252 as a team. May also had 15 digs to lead the team.

UCSB went on a 4-0 run to break open the first set. Froley hit down the line for a side out, UCLA was whistled for a mishandled set, Ruddins crushed a ball cross court and finished a big dig by Vivao with a tip for a 17-9 lead.

Froley and Ruddins closed out the set with back-to-back kills.

The Gauchos finished off the second set with 6-0 run. Ruddins blasted two kills and had a stuff block in the run, and Vivao served an ace for the final point.

UCLA was on the cusp of winning the third set, taking a 24-21 lead on a kill from May.

But the Gauchos would not be denied. The comeback started with back-to-back blocks. Deni Wilson blocked a third attack that the Bruins recovered, but they hit their next attack out of bounds, tying the score at 24-24.

UCLA then flubbed a free ball and Froley capitalized with a kill to put the Gauchos up 25-24. 

A UCSB serving error out of timeout knotted the score at 25-25 and a Simo kill put the Bruins ahead 26-25.

Froley hit down the line again for a sideout and a tie score and UCLA netted on the next play.

A tough serve by Fleck resulted in an overpass that Ennis put away to give the Gauchos a signature victory in their impressive nonconference season.

Noozhawk Sports Editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Tallulah Froley comes inside and buries a ball for UCSB in a 3-set sweep over UCLA

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) September 19, 2019

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