UCSB Outlasts UC Irvine, Earns Five-Set Big West Upset

UCSB Outlasts UC Irvine, Earns Five-Set Big West Upset

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team triumphed over UC Irvine in five sets on Friday night, emerging in five sets despite squandering a 2-0 lead thanks to a transcendent performance from sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins, who recorded 32 kills in the contest to widen her NCAA-leading kills average. Set scores were 25-22, 25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 15-8.

UCSB (7-17, 6-6 Big West) outhit the visitors by over 100 points in the win, .268 to .158. Ruddins, who had a personal .375 clip, was one of several Gauchos with standout performances. Freshman middle blocker Nicole Omwanghe notched nine kills on just 17 swings and had a team-high six blocks, junior setter Annie Hasselmann had her second career 50-assist night (51) while both she and Lexi Rottman (team-high three aces) affected the match from the service line. Junior libero Emilia Petrachi led all players with 23 digs. Last but not least, Charlie Robinson added five blocks, including three in the decisive fifth set. 

It was the second career 30-kill match for Ruddins, who earlier this season had a personal-high 36 against then-No. 15 Florida State. Those 36 kills are still the most by any player in an NCAA match this season. 

UC Irvine (21-5, 9-4) had three players reach double-digit kills, led by Idara Akpakpa's 19. 

Friday night's result was the first victory for UCSB this season in a five-set match.

"Overall I liked how we were playing, even in the third and fourth sets, Irvine was just able to get on some runs there," said UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. "We knew we just needed to side out a little more efficiently, so we told the team to focus on what we were doing well, and our execution was outstanding in the fifth."

UCSB got off to a good start in the opening frame, jumping out with a 4-0 lead after a trio of UCI attack errors were followed up by a tapdown kill from Kjia Rivers off an overpass. Despite that early cushion, the two teams would end up neck-and-neck down the stretch, with the Anteaters using an 8-3 run to pull within two at 21-19. UCI was able to limit Ruddins in the early going, but she ended up taking over at the end of the first, as she notched kills to provide three of the final four points UCSB would need, including a shot off the block to clinch it.

The Gauchos put together one of their best single-game offensive performances of the season in the second, swinging at a robust .522 clip including seven kills from Ruddins on 11 errorless swings. UCSB's other four hitters combined for eight kills on just nine swings. Besides the offensive rhythm, it was the serving of Lexi Rottman that helped the Gauchos go up 2-0, as she routinely got the Anteaters out of system with her jump float, helping UCSB to a 6-0 mid-set run that resulted in a commanding 18-11 lead. Omwanghe finished off the frame with a tip off the block. 

UCI responded after the halftime break with a solid third, led by seven kills from Akpakpa. After UCI took the first point, the score was either in their favor or a tie for the rest of the set. 

It was more of the same in the fourth, with the Anteaters opening up a 4-0 lead early and then nursing the lead throughout. The Gauchos had surges of strong play, culminating in a brief lead at 16-15 on a Rottman ace, but the Anteaters re-established the lead with a 9-3 run to establish game point. Trailing 24-19, UCSB made it interesting with a 4-0 run, including two Rivers-Omwanghe blocks, before UCI sent it to the fifth on a kill from Akpakpa. 

The Gauchos won the decisive frame with relative ease, belying the back-and-forth nature of the first four sets. Ruddins absolutely took over the frame, kicking it up another gear to land nine kills on just 12 swings. Her dominance helped UCSB to an early 9-2 lead, allowing the team to just trade points the rest of the way for the win. Charlie Robinson was also a pivotal figure in the fifth, notching three blocks, including a solo effort on match point. 

"We just got on a really good run there in the fifth," said Lantagne Welch. "We started to get Lindsey some good looks, had a couple huge digs, a key block here and there. At that point, it really became infectious."

UCSB concludes its home slate tomorrow night against UC Davis, with first serve scheduled for 7:00 p.m. The Gauchos' two seniors, defensive specialist Sydney Bast and outside hitter Chanel Hoffman, will be honored before the start of the contest.