SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Behind Ali Barbeau's career-high 22 kills and a comeback in the third game, the Gauchos forced Hawai'i into five sets, but the Rainbow Wahine did just enough to escape the Thunderdome with a 3-2 victory on Friday night.
"In a match like this, the difference is just one or two plays," UCSB Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "The biggest thing is that our team put it all out on the floor tonight. We were down 0-2 and we didn't throw in the towel. We fought back and we had to fight hard to get that third set and get things going our way."
Though the Gauchos returned from the break down two sets, they didn't give the Rainbow Wahine any breathing room in those victories as they forced 25-23 finishes in both.
UCSB made its move in the pivotal third set in facing a 17-13 Hawai'i lead. Ali Santi faked a set and threw down a kill to give Gauchos the serve and Chanel Hoffman took care of the rest in leading UCSB on a 7-0 run. The freshman forced the Rainbow Wahine into a pair of attacking errors, while Barbeau picked apart Hawai'i's defense with two of her match-high 22 kills.
"I haven't believed in us as a team in a long time," Barbeau said. "And in that third game, I said we were winning this. We had no option but to take that set, and if I had to make it happen then I'd make it happen, but no matter what we had to win."
Looking for a spark on offense, Hawai'i swapped its setters and put Kendra Koelsch on the floor. The switch paid off as the 6-1 freshman breathed new life into her team's attack in earning assists on five of the following six Hawai'i points, which led to them reclaiming the lead at 24-23.
With the match on the line, Nikki Taylor was fed the ball, but Phoebe Grunt and Hoffman denied her of a kill and forced extra points off their block.
In one of her best attacking performance this season, Kristen Berlo came through late in the third with a kill in giving UCSB its second chance at set point. Jaylen Villanueva finally ended the marathon of a game by burying a service ace through the middle of the floor. The junior finished with a personal-record four aces, while Berlo tied a career-high with 10 kills and swung for a .588 clip with no errors.
In forcing the fifth set, UCSB did not waste anytime in the fourth with a hot start that helped it grab hold of an 18-11 lead. During that stretch, Britton Taylor was a force at the service line and put her team on track for a 5-0 run. The junior dealt a pair of aces, and put Hawai'i out of its system, evidenced by its two attacking errors.
The Rainbow Wahine would climb their back within two points at 20-18, but the Gauchos cooled them off in holding them to just one point for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the team's offense caught fire and scored three kills and an ace in their final five points.
Neither team held back in the fifth set, as there was no lead greater than one point until Olivia Magill swung for consecutive kills to put the Rainbow Wahine on top 9-7.
The final plays of the match consisted of long rallies and highlight reel worthy digs from both sides, but it was Hawai'i that made a few more plays and took the win at 15-12.
The Gauchos will conclude regular season play next Wednesday at Cal Poly starting at 7 p.m.