AUSTIN — Arguably the toughest first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament saw Texas State (24-9, 14-2 Sun Belt) season end as they dropped a 3-1 decision to UC Santa Barbara (23-5, 12-4 Big West) Thursday night at Gregory Gymnasium. The Bobcats turned in their seventh consecutive winning season and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2004-05.
“Tonight, we got beat by a better team,” said head coach Karen Chisum. “We did not play our best at all and could have been the better team on another night. The third set looked like the Bobcats I know but UC Santa Barbara just pushed harder tonight so hats off to them. But even though we fell short, this season was not a disappointment. Back-to-back conference champions with NCAA Tournament appearances is something for these kids to hold their head high about. Of course, I am disappointed for our seniors and I thank them for all of their contributions. But as I look ahead to the future, our returners bring a lot of talent to the 2020 team and I like our recruiting class. The Bobcats will be back.”
Although a hard-fought battle, Texas State was outhit by UC Sant Barbara .245-.169 and logged 61 kills to the Bobcats’ 46. The Gauchos also held the advantage in assists (53-44), digs (70-54), and blocks (10-6). The Bobcats did have eight aces to the Gauchos’ six.
Sophomore outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald led the Bobcats with 12 kills (.267) and had three digs and two blocks. Senior outside hitter Cheyenne Huskey followed with nine kills but paced the way with three aces. She also recorded five digs and one block. It was the first time in 13 matches that Huskey was held under 10 kills. Sophomore setter Emily DeWalt finished with a math-high 38 assists and had six digs, two kills, an ace, and a block. Sophomore middle blocker Jillian Slaughter led the team with four blocks and matched freshman outside hitter Caitlan Buettner with seven kills. Junior libero Brooke Johnson led the team with 13 digs.
Senior outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins and freshman outside Tallulah Froley each turned in 18 kills for UCSB to lead all players. Ruddins hit .275 and registered a double-double with 13 digs and finished the match with two blocks, an ace, and one assist. Froley had a .394 hitting percentage and had three blocks. Sophomore setter Olivia Lovenberg had 30 assists, while freshman setter Romoni Vivao turned in a double-double with 19 assists and 11 digs. Sophomore libero Zoe Fleck had a match-high 26 digs and junior middle blocker Rowan Ennis led the team with five blocks and had eight digs.
Both teams were neck-and-neck through the early portion of the set, but the Gauchos put together a 6-1 run to take an 11-8 lead, forcing the Bobcats to use their first timeout of the match. Texas State responded by scoring six of the next eight points out of the break to gain a 14-13 advantage. The teams would go back and forth with four ties, including at 20-20 before Santa Barbara closed out the set with a 5-1 burst to take the opening frame 25-21.
Senior defensive specialist Micah Dinwiddie’s ace sparked a Bobcat 6-2 scoring run to give the visiting team a 9-5 lead, forcing the Gauchos into a timeout. UCSB would battle back and cut the deficit to one at 13-12, but a Bobcat 6-1 run gave them a 19-13 lead that pressured the home team into their final timeout. Santa Barbara came back with another push, however, scoring six unanswered points to tie the set at 19 and eventually took the lead 21-20 after an ace by Senior outside hitter Torre Glasker. UCSB took a 2-0 lead after winning the stanza 25-21 and ultimately closed the set on a 12-2 run.
The Gauchos started early by scoring the first three points, but the Bobcats answered by scoring the next four to take the lead and led 10-7 when Santa Barbara called its first timeout of the set. The Bobcats led by as many as six points (19-13) and avoided the sweep with a 25-20 win. Texas State hit .286 in the set and had three aces to the Gauchos’ one. Both teams finished with 14 kills and Fitzgerald led the Bobcats with four.
Although Texas State struck first, UC Santa Barbara rattled off six straight points to force the Bobcats to burn their first timeout and led 12- 6 when they decided to spend its second. The Gauchos continued to pile on by using a 7-0 run to take a 19-6 lead and ultimately won the set 25-14.