Gauchos Split Doubleheader to Close Out Pitt Panther Challenge

Annie Hasselmann (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Annie Hasselmann (photo by Eric Isaacs)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team wrapped up non-conference action on Saturday by splitting a morning-afternoon doubleheader at the Pitt Panther Challenge, falling in four sets to Cleveland State before rebounding to top Eastern Kentucky for the squad's first victory of the season. 

Several Gauchos had standout days at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. Chief among them was junior setter Annie Hasselmann, who totaled 79 assists (9.9 per set), 10 kills, and six blocks on the day while steering the team to a season-high .330 hitting percentage against EKU en route to All-Tournament Team honors. Freshman middle blocker Nicole Omwanghe also had the two most productive offensive performances of her young career, posting a combined 22 kills on .486 hitting. 

UCSB (1-11) returns to Santa Barbara next weekend, opening Big West play by hosting UC Riverside on Friday and Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. Every league match, home and away, will be streamed live through Big West TV. 

Match One Recap

Despite a breakout outing from Omwanghe and a solid all-around effort from Hasselmann, UCSB was bested in four sets by Cleveland State (7-3) in the team's first match of the day, with first serve scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Set scores were 25-17, 25-22, 22-25, 25-23. 

Omwanghe turned in a career-high 13 kills on .435 hitting for the Gauchos, while sophomore right side Charlie Robinson (10 kills) and Kjia Rivers (seven) also contributed offensively. As per usual, junior libero Emilia Petrachi was the team's defensive leader, registering a match-high 20 digs (five per set). 

The Vikings meanwhile received double-digit kills from a trio of hitters, as setter Gina Kilner notched 43 assists while helping her squad to a .246 hitting percentage.

Despite losing the set, Omwanghe and Petrachi were at their most productive in the first. The former needed just five swings to put down a team-best four kills, while Petrachi scooped up nine digs, almost half of her total for the match. The two teams were knotted up through the first half of the set, but a 9-3 run off a 12-12 tie for the Vikings proved decisive in the set. 

CSU limited the Gauchos to a .098 hitting percentage in the second set to build a commanding 2-0 lead.

UCSB staved off a sweep with a solid third set, with Hasselmann leading the offense to a .342 hitting percentage. The Gauchos were able to avoid the Viking block completely in the third set after CSU was able to pile up six total blocks in the second set. Rivers was the Gauchos' most reliable option in the frame, as she notched four kills on as many swings. Omwanghe also had four kills in the set, while Robinson and freshman middle/right side Amanda Serex had three each.

The Gauchos trailed by as much as five early on in the set, but used a 6-1 run behind strong serving from junior setter Lexi Rottman and senior defensive specialist Sydney Bast to even it up at 15-15. After CSU briefly re-took at 16-15, the Gauchos went on to win five consecutive points – highlights of the run including a Hasselmann dump and a solo block from Rivers – to go up 19-16. The two teams went on to trade points the rest of the way. 

Cleveland State eked out the fourth set – and the match – despite getting outblocked 4-1 and having to weather a late UCSB 8-2 charge that knotted the score at 23-23. Unfortunately for UCSB, the Vikings recovered to claim the final two points. 

Match Two Recap

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins (team-high 20 kills) and Omwanghe (9-1-14) paced the Gaucho offense in a four-set triumph over Eastern Kentucky (2-12) in the teams' final match of the Pitt Panther Challenge. Set scores were 24-26, 25-16, 25-19, 25-15. 

The Gauchos were firing on all cylinders against the Colonels, hitting a solid .330 to EKU's .133. Every hitter that took more than one swing for UCSB finished with a hitting percentage over .250, while a trio (Serex, Ruddins, Omwanghe) finished above .300. 

In an extremely close first set (12 ties, four lead changes), seven kills from Eastern Kentucky's Celina Sanks proved to be decisive as the Colonels edged the Gauchos out. Tied 24-24, a Gaucho service error allowed the Colonels a set point, and they converted immediately with Sanks clinching the set on her final kill of the frame. 

UCSB took over from there with strong serving and blocking that held EKU to a sub-.200 hitting percentage in each of the final three sets, including a -.028 clip in the fourth. The Gaucho offense meanwhile got into a nice rhythm, hitting .276 in the second and then over .400 in both the third and fourth sets. 

The Gauchos started and finished strong in the second, using a dominant service run from Rottman early on to take a 9-2 lead and then weathering an EKU comeback that cut the lead to three before stepping on the gas to close it out with an 8-1 run. A trio of Gauchos played critical parts in that run, with Ruddins notching a pair of kills, Hasselmann coming up with a big ace, and Robinson clinching the set with a solo block off an attempted dump by setter Rachel Woody. 

It was deja vu for UCSB in the third set, with Rottman once again serving the Gauchos into a 9-2 lead early. UCSB kept a sizable cushion this time around, never allowing the Colonels to get within fewer than six points. Ruddins had her most effective set in the third, notching seven kills. Omwanghe also performed well with three kills on as many swings while Petrachi had half of her 12 digs within the frame. 

The Gauchos saved their most dominant set for the fourth, as four separate hitters recorded multiple kills and strong serving forced the Colonels into nine attack errors.