Thunderdome Classic Recap
With the crowning achievement of sweeping then No. 25 Colorado State, UCSB finished with a 3-1 record in their annual home tournament last weekend. The Gauchos started the Thunderdome Classic with back-to-back sweeps of CSU Bakersfield and Baylor, a top-50 RPI team from last year. Saturday was when the Gauchos swept the Rams and became the second non-ranked team since Nov. 2010 to defeat a ranked Colorado State. The first team was Pitt who beat CSU in five earlier that day. Battling in their fourth match on Sunday, UCSB was unable to complete its perfect weekend, as the team fell to Pitt 3-1 in the tournament finale. But with a 5-2 record in hand, the Gauchos are off to their best start since 2012.
Santa Barbara's fast start hasn't gone unnoticed, as the team received votes in the AVCA Coaches' Poll for the first time since November of the 2013, a season when the Gauchos captured the Big West crown. The team was also listed as "on the bubble" for PrepVolleyball.com's Top 50 Rankings. So far this season, UCSB has defeated a three top-50 RPI teams from last year and a pair of NCAA Tournament contenders in New Mexico State and Colorado State.
Readying for USF Challenge
The Gauchos will look to continue its strong start to the season at the San Francisco Challenge. The three-match tournament will pit UCSB against Brown on Friday followed by St. John's and the Dons on Saturday. This year will mark the fourth time the Gauchos have competed in USF's tournament, with their last trip to San Francisco coming in 2010. While Brown and USF have a combined 4-6 record, St. John's will be putting a perfect 6-0 record - having lost only one set - on the line, as it will be facing West Coast teams for the first time this season.
Hannah Juley has been UCSB's primary setter since the start of the season and currently ranks third in the Big West with 246 assists, while holding the fifth-best average of 9.84 helpers per set. She has also made an impact on defense with 57 digs, the second-most among Big West setters. In terms of individual numbers, best match was against Albany when she had 49 digs and 17 digs, while she recently guided the Gauchos to .300-plus clips against CSU Bakersfield (.311) and Baylor (.305).
Go Go Chanel
Chanel Hoffman had a breakout weekend at the Thunderdome Classic, which was highlighted by her career-high 17-kill, .406-hitting percentage performance against Baylor. She earned her first all-tournament selection of the season after posting 49 kills with a .289 clip. The junior also opened the weekend with her second consecutive 17-dig outing, a career-high. And while she had one block through the first two matches, she made her presence known at the net against CSU and Pitt when she posted three blocks in each match.
Lindsey Ruddins was named the Big West's Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive time after leading the Gauchos through the Thunderdome Classic with 61 kills and 70.5 points. Ruddins - who was also made her second straight all-tournament team - averaged 4.69 kills per set and recorded at least 14 kills in each match. The 6-1 outside hitter was also a force at the net, as she posted a team-high of 14 blocks, including a season-high eight against CSU Bakersfield, and was second on the team with 34 digs. Against CSU, she led the match with 16 kills despite the Rams' concerted efforts of stopping her. At this point in the young season, she is the Big West leader in kills with 120 and ranks third in kills per set with a 4.80 average.
While the pin hitters have been going off, the Gauchos have also had strong performances from their middle blockers. Entering this weekend, the team sports two of the conference's top-five leaders in blocks per set with Charlie Robinson in first with 1.40 and Phoebe Grunt placing fourth with her 1.00 average. With Elizabeth Sheffield's 0.88 b/s average ranking 10th, the Gauchos have the most players among its top-10 blockers. Grunt, a senior and team captain, also owns the conference's third-largest blocks total with 25, while she has been consistently efficient on offense with a .384 hitting percentage, ranking fourth in the league.
Emilia Petrachi has continued to play at the all-conference level that she had during her freshman season, as she currently leads the Big West with 119 digs and is third with 4.76 digs per set. The sophomore opened the season with consecutive 25+ dig performances with 27 at UNLV and 25 against New Mexico State. She has always reached double digits in the dig category in every match and has not posted a total lower than 13. The Gauchos have also benefited from her crisp passing game, which helped the team record a pair of .300 hitting percentage matches last weekend and a .226 overall clip.
UCSB has emerged as one of the top serving teams in the league with 35 service aces and 1.40 aces per set, which are both second in the conference. Hannah Juley and Lexi Rottman lead the team and are eight in the league with seven aces, while Elizabeth Sheffield has the roster's best average of 0.31 per set. The team reached its 2016 pinnacle with a seven-ace outing against Baylor, all done in just three sets. In that match, freshman Maxine Burke dealt a team-high three aces, while Sheffield and Chanel Hoffman had two, and Ruddins chipped in one.