UCSB Battles, But Falls Short in First Day of Thunderdome Classic

Kjia Rivers (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Kjia Rivers (photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team lost a pair of matches, to Yale and No. 19 USC, on Friday in the first day of the 2017 UCSB Thunderdome Classic. 

The Gauchos opened the day with a four-set loss to the Bulldogs in the opening match of the tournament, then closed out the night with a three-set defeat at the hands of the Women of Troy. 

In between, USC was able to top Arkansas in five sets before the Razorbacks recovered to sweep Yale. 

Already short-handed entering the weekend, UCSB was down four starters in its nightcap against USC and started five freshmen. Despite the tall task of facing an undefeated team in Yale and a ranked team in USC, a number of Gaucho youngsters afforded themselves well, led by middle blocker/right side Kjia Rivers (17 kills, eight blocks combined) and defensive specialist Kobie Jimenez (14 digs, two aces). 

"I think that when we get to full strength, we'll have a lot to look forward to," said UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. "In the meantime, we need to focus on the process, getting better, and taking opportunities to learn and grow. For instance, I thought Kjia had a great day and played outstanding against a pair of really good teams which bodes well for our future."

The Thunderdome Classic concludes on Saturday with USC-Yale at 4:00 p.m. and UCSB-Arkansas at 7:00 p.m. 

Match One Recap

A season-high .232 team hitting percentage and 29 kills from Lindsey Ruddins turned out to be not enough in a 3-1 loss to Yale (4-0) in the tourney-opening match. The contest was an extremely tight one, as each set was decided by the minimum two points; 25-23, 26-24, 26-28, 25-23. 

Besides Ruddins, who added 16 digs for her third double-double of the season, the Gauchos received standout performances from sophomore outside Rowan Ennis (career-high three solo blocks, six total), senior defensive specialist Sydney Bast (15 digs, three aces), junior libero Emilia Petrachi (team-high 17 digs) and freshman middle Kjia Rivers (eight kills, four blocks). 

Ruddins was UCSB's driving factor in a triumphant third set, putting down 13 of her kills on just 22 swings. The Gauchos had their work cut out for them in the set, falling behind 7-1 early. UCSB chipped away at the deficit slowly until two lengthy and effective service runs from Bast and freshman Kobie Jimenez allowed the Gauchos to tie up at 16-all. UCSB turned a 6-14 deficit into a 17-16 lead by the time its 11-2 run, featuring four consecutive kills from Ruddins to close it out, was concluded. 

The Gauchos' work wasn't over though, as the Bulldogs were able to survive a trio of set points, tying it at 24-24 and sending it to extra points. At 25-25, a Yale double block put the Gauchos on the brink of a sweep, but the home team rebounded to claim the set by reeling off three straight points, clinching it on Ruddin's final kill of the frame. 

UCSB and Yale battled closely in the fourth set until a 14-14 tie gave way to a decisive 4-0 run for the visitors. UCSB would bring it as close as 24-23, but ultimately couldn't level the scoreline before a Gaucho attacking error clinched the match for Yale. 

Match Two Recap 

Missing four starters due to injury, UCSB started five freshmen in a 3-0 loss to No. 19 USC (6-2), with set scores of 25-15, 25-16, 25-20. 

Rivers, who played as a pin in the nightcap, had a solid first set for the Gauchos, needing just five swings to record a team-best four kills. 

UCSB had a more balanced attack in the second, receiving half of Charlie Robinson's eight kills in the frame alongside three from Bast. 

After USC hit .525 over the first two games, the Gauchos got into quite the defensive groove in the third, putting up five teams blocks and forcing the Women of Troy to hit just .147. That turnaround was spurred on in part by two players: Megan Weaver, who in her Division I debut notched three blocks early on in the set, and Rivers, who had four blocks in the final stanza. Ultimately, the Gauchos forced USC into nine attack errors in third after they went errorless in the first two games. 

UCSB hung close with the Trojans in the final set, fighting off an early 7-3 advantage for the visitors and eventually forcing a USC timeout after tying the match at 17-all. After the break, the Women of Troy responded with an 8-3 run to close out the match.