LAS VEGAS – UCSB's young talent took center stage on the first day of the 2016 season, as the Gauchos split their competition with a 3-2 comeback victory over New Mexico State and a 3-0 loss to UNLV.
"Our team is a very young team and we grew a lot today," UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "We had some adversity, but we made some adjustments between the matches and we stayed the course and kept fighting with each other. Today was a good growing up experience for us and it feels great to get that win."
Outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins was looked to early and often on offense and she came through with 40 kills between the two matches with a combined .243 hitting clip. She also posted the second-most digs on the team with 23 and added five blocks at the net.
Defensively, the Gauchos were anchored by sophomore Emilia Petrachi who picked up 52 digs overall, averaging a prolific 6.50 digs per set.
The Gauchos will conclude its UNLV Invitational play tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. when they will face Albany.
After coming up short in a pair of extra point sets with UNLV, the Gauchos dropped their season open 3-0 (29-27, 25-16, 27-25) at the Cox Pavilion. Despite the loss, UCSB had some highlight performances including a match-high 16-kill effort from redshirt freshman Lindsey Ruddins.
Ruddins made her return to the floor in a big way with nine kills in the first set, registering a .400 hitting percentage. The redshirt – who hasn't played since September of last season – was UCSB's go-to attacker from the start, as she recorded a team-high 20 swings in the set besting the next closest player by five attempts.
On defense, sophomore Emilia Petrachi picked up right where she left off last season and paced the match with 25 digs, accounting for over 40 percent of UCSB's scoops. The 2015 all-conference libero also added seven assists and one of UCSB's two service aces.
The tone of the match was set early on, as the Gauchos and the Rebels found themselves in a point-for-point opening set that had 17 tied scores. UCSB played from behind or at a tie score for the majority of the game until the offense started clicking and led the charge to claim a 19-17 lead, the team's first multi-point advantage. During that stretch, the Gauchos went on a 4-1 run with each of the points coming off a kill from four different attackers.
But keeping true with the ebb and flow nature of the set, UNLV came back and took a late 24-22 lead which also proved to be short-lived as a bad Rebel set and a block from Phoebe Grunt and Megan Rice tied the score at 24-all.
UCSB had set point on two occasions, but the Rebels managed to stay alive long enough to fire off a 3-0 run to end the set.
After the prolonged opener, the Gauchos fell in the second set 25-16, but would later regroup and stormed out of the gate in set three.
UCSB's hot start reached its peak with a 7-2 lead before UNLV called a timeout in hopes of hindering the Gauchos' new found momentum. But the Gauchos would continue on their offensive tear en route to a 12-7 lead with all of the team's points coming off 11 kills and an ace.
The lion's share of those kills came from Charlie Robinson and Grunt who owned the middle early in the set. The senior got going early with three straight kills for the Gauchos, while Robinson added three of her own before Grunt punctuated the run with her fourth kill.
That lead would later balloon up to 14-7 thanks to a pair of Rebel attacking errors, which would be the team's largest lead of the game.
Soon, UNLV pieced together small runs to pressure the Gauchos' lead, but UCSB managed to stay ahead until the Rebels had their best stretch of 6-1 to take a 24-22 lead.
UCSB, though, would stay in contention thanks to a timely service error followed by yet another Ruddins kill to tie the set at 24-24. But the team couldn't complete the late rally, as the Rebels rattled off two more kills to seal the game and the match at 27-25.
NEW MEXICO STATE
The day's second match against the reigning WAC Champions featured more tight sets, but this time the Gauchos were able to complete their comebacks, while holding off late efforts from the Aggies, as they clinched the match 3-2 (28-30, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-13).
Ruddins was busy on offense with 24 kills, while Chanel Hoffman joined her in the double digits with 10 of her own. Defensively, Petrachi put up her second 20+ dig performance of the day with 27, while Charlie Robinson was a force at the net with 11 blocks, five more than the next closest player.
"She's been really solid in practice the last few days and we thought that we'll give her the starting nod and see how she does," Welch said. "And her play in the first match absolutely said something to us too."
And from the beginning of the match, the coaches already saw their decision paying off.
In the first set, Robinson recorded more points than any Gaucho with eight after throwing down four kills and recording four blocks. That set the tone for her play the rest of the match, as she finished with eight kills and 11 total blocks (two solo).
And though the Gauchos' late-set rally came up short in a 25-22 second set, they carried their strong play over to the third set when they were the ones who survived a late comeback effort.
After claiming a 15-9 edge, UCSB surrendered its lead following a 12-4 run put on by New Mexico State. However, the Aggies let their 21-19 advantage slip after surrendering four straight points to the Gauchos. Ruddins started the run with a kill, while she later put up a block with Robinson. With momentum on their side, even the Aggies tying the score at 23-23 couldn't shake them, as Chanel Hoffman connected on the game-sealing kill, keeping the Gauchos alive.
The fourth set was up for grabs with no team taking a lead larger than two points until the Gauchos snapped a 14-14 tie with back-to-back points and never looked back. Chanel Hoffman got the team going with a kill and picked up a block following a New Mexico State timeout.
UCSB later took off on a 7-2 run to clinch the set with the aid of three kills from three different players along with a block from Hannah Juley and Robinson for the 25th point.
Reminiscent of the third set, the Gauchos overcame an early Aggie lead and came back to win the game by two points. UCSB had trailed by three points at 6-3, but primarily stayed within two of New Mexico State throughout the game and by the time the teams switched sides of the floor the Aggies were only ahead 8-7.
The Gauchos made their move after being down 11-9, as they were ignited by a key block from Rowan Ennis and Phoebe Grunt. An attack error would later tie the score at 11-11, which set the stage for UCSB's game-changing 3-0 run.
With Sydney Bast at the service line, the Gauchos saw a pair of attacking errors from the Aggies as well as an ace that just snuck onto the right sideline. To finish the job, UCSB looked to Ruddins yet again who came through with a kill to clinch her team their first victory of the season.