By Jorge Mercado, Santa Barbara News-Press
For nearly five years, Lindsey Ruddins showcased her immense talent donning the blue and gold for the UCSB women's volleyball team.
In that time, Ruddins was outstanding, earning 1,970 kills, second most all-time in program history, and collecting a slew of awards. In each of her four years, she was named to Big West All-Conference, AVCA All-Region, and AVCA All-America.
She is also the only Gaucho to ever earn four All-American nods.
And, while all good things come to an end, Ruddins career continues to shine, even on the professional level.
"I knew when my career ended (at UCSB) I wanted to continue playing as long as my body would let me," Ruddins said with a laugh.
"And I was really stoked when the opportunity to start that career sooner than I expected."
Just a few months after playing her final game for the Gauchos in a second round loss in the NCAA Tournament to No. 2 seeded Texas, Ruddins suited up for the first time as a professional player — nearly 3,500 miles away from her home in Santa Barbara.
In early February, Ruddins signed her first professional contract, agreeing to sign to play in Puerto Rico for Las Pinkin de Corozal in the Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenino.
"I was super excited when I got there. The coach that coached our team was amazing. I really liked playing for him. He really just tried to like develop our team and to just buy into the process of working hard and everything so I was really excited to play for him," Ruddins said.
And, it didn't take long for the Laguna Niguel native to make her presence felt.
Within her first month as a professional, Ruddins led her team to its first win of the season in a five-set thriller, which included her leading the team with 26 points and 19 kills.
Her performance earned her her first career Mejor Ataque Player of the Week award.
"It was cool, but I don't know. All those things never really get to me. It's a team sport and I love playing with the team," Ruddins said.
Just a few weeks later, Ruddins made league history, scoring the second most points in a single game with 43. She is tied with five other players for the honor and fell six points shy of the record, which was set back in 2002.
Of her 43 points, 34 of them came off kills in another five-set thriller which saw her team upset the third-place team in the league, Toa Baja.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, her first season was cut short. On March 12, three days after Ruddins scored 43 points in a single outing, the league announced it would be suspending the season. It has not returned to action since.
Pinkin even had a game scheduled hours before the league announced it would be suspending its season.
"Puerto Rico is definitely a lot different than California, which is where I was born and raised and then went to college, so it was definitely interesting to finally live somewhere else but loved it and the girls were super sweet. They made it possible to adopt the culture and were so nice," Ruddins said.
Ruddins also admitted it was a bit intimidating to suddenly move out of the country, something she never really experienced before, ironically, because club volleyball usually made her stay inside the United States.
"I researched it a little bit before I went but it's definitely scary to go somewhere you've never been and just being told you're living there now," Ruddins said with a laugh.
"But I had awesome teammates help me through that and the owners of the team were amazing and the coaching staff was really great."
Even though Ruddins was "bummed" the season was cut short, she was happy to have even had the opportunity as it came sooner than she expected.
"I signed with an agent and he brought up multiple opportunities for me but I wouldn't have been able to do those because the season is longer and I was still taking classes to finish my degree," Ruddins said.
Luckily, when the Puerto Rican league offer came, she was able to jump at the offer because the season is shorter. Had the season not been suspended, the final game would have been on April 19, allowing Ruddins to come back and wrap up her degree.
"I was mostly just lifting and conditioning before I left because I didn't think I would be playing in a game so soon because I didn't think I could play like anywhere for a season since I was in school, so it's kind of a shock when this opportunity presented itself," Ruddins said.
With the coronavirus still around, Ruddins said it's difficult to know what lies ahead, but expects to continue playing with Pinkin whenever the season is either resumed or when next season approaches and maybe even other opportunities.
"I will continue playing. I can't say anything else besides that because of everything going on, but I will be ready," Ruddins said.
When asked about maybe one day having the opportunity to represent her country and play for the USA Volleyball team, Ruddins said it's every player's dream but she prefers to stay in the moment.
"I have no idea, those girls are just at such a high level. I am just grateful to be able to continue playing and whatever happens, happens. I really just kind of like to take it day by day and see how things go," Ruddins said.
For now, the moment means Ruddins celebrating wrapping up her college degree. With UCSB celebrating commencement last week virtually, Ruddins was able to celebrate earning a sociology degree from one of the best public universities in the country.
"It means a lot. I'm super grateful for UCSB and all the opportunities that I've gotten from there and just for the school and everyone in the athletics department. I'm sad that there's no graduation but, I mean, just to be able to have the degree from there is amazing," Ruddins said.
Looking back at her illustrious career, Ruddins saw a lot of turnover. In her first few seasons, the team usually was in the middle of the pack or worse.
Yet, in her final outing, she was a part of a historic team that did big things, like sweeping UCLA, winning 23 games and, most importantly, winning the first NCAA tournament game since 2004.
"The NCAA Tournament was just an unreal experience. Against Texas, up 2-1, I think we gave it our all and I don't think anyone has any regrets. To go out against them and five was just kind of a great way to end my career at UCSB," Ruddins said.
"And to be able to play with such talented young players and hopefully I impacted them in some way, that's all I could have ever asked for."