WVB: Gauchos turn away Titans in four

FULLERTON, Calif. – With four Gauchos reaching double figures in kills, UCSB (7-17, 3-10) defeated Cal State Fullerton (0-25, 0-13) in four sets on the road on Friday night.

Jaylen Villanueva had arguably her best offensive night of the year with a match-high 14 kills and a .433 hitting percentage. The senior has now recorded at least 10 kills in four straight matches.

UCSB’s middle blocking duo of Phoebe Grunt and Elizabeth Sheffield impressed as well in combining for 24 kills. Both reached career-highs, as Grunt tied hers with 13 kills and also added four blocks, while Sheffield finished with 11.

On defense, Emilia Petrachi surpassed the 20-dig mark for the eighth time this year. Villanueva scooped up 13 digs in gaining her third double double in four matches, while Hanna Nielson picked up 12 of her own to compliment her team-high 30 assists.

The Gauchos cruised to a 25-15 victory in the first set thanks to their strong 8-3 game-opening run. Grunt delivered the first point with the first kill of the match to open the stretch, while her fellow middle blocker Elizabeth Sheffield recorded two kills and a service ace.

Fullerton was able to cut into the Gaucho lead at 9-7, but after Hanna Nielson was subbed into the match, she and Grunt connected on three straight kills to lift UCSB to a 14-7 advantage. The junior then delivered a solo block to give the Gauchos set-point at 24-15, which set the stage for Jaylen Villanueva’s kill to seal the win.

Santa Barbara’s offense was hot in the first game in swinging at a .368 clip, but it was the team’s defense that stood out in the 25-19 win in the second game, as it held Fullerton to a scant .028 clip.

Both teams scored on long streaks, as the Gauchos delivered the first of those on a 5-0 run to erase a 5-2 Titan lead. Britton Taylor and Villanueva combined on two blocks during the stretch, while Villanueva also delivered a kill.

Fullerton briefly reclaimed an edge at 13-10, but the Gauchos officially put them in the rearview mirror with an 11-1 scoring run. Fittingly, Grunt led UCSB with three kills in that span, while Devin Joos added a pair of kills herself. Sheffield then pushed the team to the 25-19 final score with two kills, including the set-clincher.

The Titans came back from the intermission with a 25-14 win, but the Gauchos put together their strongest attacking set in the fourth to take the match.

UCSB swung at a .371 clip, as Villanueva led the team with five kills and Ali Barbeau added four. Barbeau recorded the first kill of the set and later capped off a 3-0 run that put her team ahead 12-8.

That run came in response to a 3-0 output from the Titans, and it gave UCSB the lead for good. Another 9-4 run gave the Gauchos their commanding 20-14 lead, as they closed out the match with three kills and a pair of blocks. Barbeau, Grunt, and Taylor were responsible for the kills, while Grunt was also in on both blocks, including the match-clincher with Villanueva.

UCSB will be back in action tomorrow night when they take on UC Riverside starting at 7:30 p.m.