SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team suffered a heartbreaking loss to Arkansas on Saturday night in the final contest of the 2017 Thunderdome Classic, falling in five sets despite playing some of their best volleyball of the season. Set scores were 16-25, 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 15-11.
The Gauchos received positive contributions from practically every player who stepped on the floor, with several setting new season and career-highs in the loss.
Pin hitters Lindsey Ruddins (24 kills, 11 digs), Charlie Robinson (career-high 12 kills), middle Nicole Omwanghe (career-high eight blocks, six kills), libero Emilia Petrachi (season-high 26 digs), and setter Annie Hasselmann (45 assists and three aces, both season bests) had particularly effective nights, but key performances also came from sophomore middle blocker Rowan Ennis (seven kills, four blocks), freshman defensive specialist Kobie Jimenez (10 digs), senior defensive specialist Sydney Bast (seven digs, two aces), and freshman middle/right side Kjia Rivers (four blocks).
In the opening game, UCSB had inarguably its best single-set performance of the young season so far. In the frame, the Gauchos hit a blistering .480, had four separate players with multiple kills led by Ruddins' five, and demonstrably outperformed the Razorbacks at the service line (three aces to none) and at the net (four blocks to none).
Though the Gauchos came back to earth after that torrid start to the match, they battled and competed against an Arkansas (8-2) team that received a standout performance from Tournament MVP Pilar Victoria, who notched 32 kills in the contest. With a .255 team hitting percentage for the match, Arkansas just edged out UCSB's .239.
"After the match, we looked at the stats and some of the things we did, and we were incredibly solid in all aspects of the game tonight," said UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. "I told the team I thought it was the best we've played all season. It's a heartbreaking loss, but we're proud of the way we competed and the improvements that we made tonight as a team and we think that's going to bode well for the future."
The two teams traded points up until 8-8 in the decisive fifth set, but back-to-back kills from Victoria and Elizabeth Pamphile gave Arkansas the first multi-point lead for either team in the frame. The Gauchos would get back to within one on a Ruddins kill off the block that made it 10-9, but that's as close as they would get as Arkansas closed the match on a 5-2 run featuring a trio of kills from Victoria, including the match-winner.
Trailing by as many as three midway through the fourth set, UCSB had to stage a comeback just to force the fifth. That charge started at 15-12 with a Hasselmann dump off an outstanding pass from Petrachi, which sent Ruddins to the service line. UCSB's All-American outside went on to give the Razorbacks fits with her jump float, forcing the visitors into a pair of reception errors and a double touch off a bad pass, giving the Gauchos the lead at 16-15 and forcing an Arkansas timeout.
More strong serving later in the set, this from Jimenez, help the Gauchos pad their lead and claim the game. Tough serves allowed the Gauchos to get good reads on the set and send two blockers, leading to a pair of double blocks, both featuring Ennis, as part of a set-closing 5-1 run.
With a swing off the pass and then a dominant service run, Hasselmann keyed the Gauchos to a decisive 6-0 run in the first set. The junior from San Diego snuck two float serves just inside the side line for a pair of aces during that spree, then set up a pair of Omwanghe blocks to pull ahead 14-7. UCSB would only add to that lead later in the set, using a 6-1 run including a pair of kills from Omwanghe to take a commanding 24-15 lead. Arkansas survived one set point before Ruddins clinched it with a strong back row spike just inside the end line.
With an average of 5.89 kills per set over the weekend, Ruddins was UCSB's representative on the Thunderdome Classic All-Tournament Team. She and Victoria were joined by the USC trio of Khalia Lanier (OH), Jordan Dunn (MB), and Victoria Garrick (L), Yale outside hitter Kelley Wirth, and Arkansas outside hitter Hailey Dirrigl.
The Gauchos conclude non-conference play next weekend at the Pitt Panther Challenge in Pittsburgh, Pa. The four-team tournament also includes Cleveland St and Eastern Kentucky.