SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In a battle between the two undefeated teams in the Thunderdome Classic, UCSB (5-2) came up short in a four-set decision (19-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-15) to Pitt (5-1) on Sunday.
"Today we didn't do a very good job when we had blockers in front of us and couldn't find ways to get out of those situations," head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "We have to give Pitt credit because they played a really strong match and quite frankly they were better out of system than we were."
Lindsey Ruddins was the only Gaucho to break into the double digits in the kill category with 17, while Chanel Hoffman was second on the team with nine kills. Both players made the All-Tournament team, as Ruddins paced the Gauchos with 61 kills and Hoffman was second with 49. Together, those two combined for nearly 63 percent of UCSB's kills in the tournament.
Leading the entire match on offense was Pitt outside hitter Stephanie Williams – who was named the tournament's MVP – with 20 kills off a .500 hitting percentage.
To start the match, the Gauchos played as sharp as they had been all weekend in attacking at a .344 clip, while holding the Panthers to a .100 mark. In that game, Ruddins was on point with her six kills, while Phoebe Grunt connected on all but one swing in picking up four kills of her own.
Grunt's work though wasn't just on offense, as she was part of four of UCSB's six blocks in the set.
But while the team easily took the opener 25-19, they could not keep that same level of play in the second when they recorded 13 attacking errors.
"It's a shame because we were playing well with that first set under our belt, but then we put in a ton of errors in at once," Welch said. "That gave Pitt momentum and then you start to question yourself. And I think we did not do a good job of responding to that and looking towards the next point. But it's a really good lesson for us. The opportunity was lost, but staying the course and sticking to the process is what matters most."
The Gauchos, though, were able to put together a late rally to make the score tighter, as Pitt's had set point at 24-17 but wouldn't clinch the game until their fourth try.
That brief 3-0 may have come up short in the second, but it gave UCSB a much needed boost heading into the third, which proved to be the most hotly contested set of the match.
After a tight start, the Panthers broke off on a 5-0 run to grab an 18-12 lead, and would stay ahead by at least three points until they found themselves on top 24-21.
With the pivotal set on the line, the Gauchos got their second wind thanks to a Pitt service error and went on to force extra points thanks to the play of Charlie Robinson who registered a kill and a block alongside fellow freshman Megan Rice.
The Panthers, however, were able to respond as Williams picked up a kill to regain the lead while an attacking error ended the set.
The Gauchos will be on the road for the next two weekends, as their first stop will be at the USF Tournament in San Francisco starting on Friday. The team will be back in the Thunderdome for their Big West opener against nationally ranked Hawai'i on Friday Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.