SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – UC Santa Barbara put together its best collective performance of the season on Friday night at the Thunderdome in its Best West opener, sweeping UC Riverside to deliver head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch the 300th victory of her career. Set scores were 25-21, 25-17, 25-22.
The Gauchos (2-11, 1-0 Big West) excelled on both sides of the ball, hitting a solid .284 while limiting UCR (8-6, 0-2) to just a .093 clip. With a 24-kill, 14-dig outing, sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins was UCSB's top offensive performer, though she had a lot of company. Freshman middle Nicole Omwanghe needed just 12 swings to notch eight kills, and freshman middle/right side Amanda Serex had a similarly efficient night (5-0-10). On defense, Omwanghe and junior setter Annie Hasselmann led a strong block (they had five apiece) which outproduced UCR 10-6 at the net. Junior libero Emilia Petrachi led all players with 19 digs. Her and Ruddins were the only players on either side to notch double-digits.
"We did a really good job of executing our game plan tonight," said Lantagne Welch. "We stepped up big time on defense yet we were in sync offensively. Lindsey obviously had an incredible night, but Emi put up a ton of digs for us and Nicole helped score points for us as well. Our serving was really strong as a team as well, which made it easier to play defense."
UCSB overcame a 15-19 deficit to claim the first set, using a 10-2 run to swipe the frame from the Highlanders. Ruddins got on a hot streak late in the game, putting down four of her nine kills in the frame during that late run. Freshman defensive specialist Kobie Jimenez and sophomore defensive specialist Maxine Burke were also instrumental in that run, helping the Gauchos to four consecutive points during each of their respective turns at the service line.
UCR earned its final point of the set on a Yuliya Ushakova kill, but the Gauchos went on to win the final four points in a row and claim the set. A huge Omwanghe-Rivers double-block gave UCSB its first lead at 22-21, then Burke's serving forced UCR into an attack error before Ruddins closed it out with strong kills on the final two points, including a cross-court spike to end it.
Though Ruddins chipped in "just" seven kills, UCSB dominated at the net with six blocks to take the second set with relative ease. Whatever UCR attacks weren't stuffed at the net were often funneled to Petrachi, who had eight of her digs in the second set alone. UCSB created separation mid-set with Petrachi at the service line. Inheriting a 15-13 lead, the Gauchos would add five consecutive points – three of them on blocks – before Petrachi relinquished the serve. From there, the teams traded mini-runs before Ruddins ended it with a spike from the left side off the block.
UCSB once again needed a late comeback to complete the sweep, overcoming a 17-19 deficit in the third. Serving proved to be the decisive factor for the Gauchos late, as the Highlanders were forced into several attacking errors down the stretch. The Jimenez-Burke duo turned out to be a momentum-shifter for UCSB once again, as Jimenez keyed the Gauchos to a 4-0 run that put them in the lead 21-19. Burke nearly finished the match herself moment later, bringing the Gauchos to match point after her serves led to two easy points – one on a tapdown kill for Omwanghe from an overpass off the serve, and the other on an ace off the tape – but the Highlanders temporarily held off UCSB for a couple points before Ruddins closed it out with a kill right down the middle from the left side.
The Gauchos will look to continue their hot play tomorrow night, hosting the Cal State Fullerton Titans at the Thunderdome at 7:00 p.m.