Gauchos are Big West Champs After Defeating Irvine 3-1

Gauchos are Big West Champs After Defeating Irvine 3-1

IRVINE, Calif. – For the 28th time in program history, the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team will compete in the NCAA Tournament after clinching the Big West Championship on Saturday night. The team downed UC Irvine in four sets to conclude the regular season (26-24, 22-25, 29-27, 25-12).

UCSB clinched a share of the Big West title with Cal State Northridge and Hawai'i— all with 13-3 records. It is the first time in conference history that the Big West had three teams tie for first.  UCSB receives the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament and will find out who it plays during Sunday's selection show.

The Gauchos clinched their first conference title since 2005.

"I'm just so proud of our team and staff for this great accomplishment," UCSB Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "It took a great team commitment and belief in each other through the entire regular season. It wasn't our prettiest night, but we got the job done."

Ali Barbeau led UCSB on offense with a match-high 15 kills, while Ali Spindt followed her with 13.

Defensively, Spindt paced the team with a career-high 23 digs, while Leah Sully captured history with her 22.

With her performance against UC Irvine, Sully is now officially UCSB's all-time leaders in digs with 1,723. She surpassed Kristin Nelson (1,711), and with at least one more match, she will look to increase on her record.

UCSB had to grind out a first set win as the team fell behind early to the Anteaters before tying it at 16-16. Jaylen Villanueva's first kill of the night tied the match, while Spindt officially gave UCSB the lead with a kill of her own.

A slew of unforced UC Irvine errors gave Santa Barbara set point at 24-20. The Anteaters, though, put up three kills in a 4-0 run to force extra points.

The Gauchos shrugged off the UCI streak behind the play of Barbeau who hammered down a kill to get back to set point and finished the job with a service ace.

After the Anteaters took the second set, the Gauchos again had to compete into extras to take game three.

The Gauchos stormed out to a 7-2 lead in opening the set as Thompson dealt back-to-back service aces to lead the charge. UC Irvine answered back with a 9-4 run and tied the score at 11-11.

From that point on, neither team took a lead larger than three points.

Just like in the first set, UCSB was the one to reach set point first, but the Anteaters kept themselves alive with a kill and a block. The score seesawed until Villanueva recorded the Gauchos' 28th point of the game with a kill. Phoebe Grunt and Spindt finally sealed the drawn out set with a block.

Grunt led the team with six block assists in the contest.

As close as the first three games were, UCSB made the Big West clinching fourth set as lopsided as they come. After taking a 7-6 advantage to open the game, the Gauchos went on an 11-3 run to keep the Anteaters out of reach.

Kara Sherrard was at the service line for six straight plays as she helped UCSB reach match point at 24-11. A UC Irvine service error was all the Gauchos needed to officially finish the match at 25-12 and also earn a place in the postseason.

"We are looking forward to representing the Big West in the NCAAs," Lantagne Welch said.

UCSB will learn who it will matchup with to open tournament play on Sunday during the NCAA Selection Show which airs at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.