Gauchos Complete Perfect Weekend with Wins Over St. John's, USF

Phoebe Grunt (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Phoebe Grunt (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SAN FRANCISCO – UCSB (8-2) emerged as USF Challenge champs after downing St. John's in four sets and finishing off USF in a sweep on Saturday night.

"Certainly it is great to go out and play hard and be rewarded with a victory and a tournament championship," head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. 

After recording a team-high 38 kills (3.8/set), 19 digs and six blocks, Lindsey Ruddins was named the tournament's MVP, as she was named to her third straight all-tournament team. Also joining her with all-tourney honors was Phoebe Grunt who recorded 27 kills and paced the Gauchos with her .488 hitting clip. The middle also finished second on the team with seven blocks.

ST. JOHN'S

The Gauchos started the day by handing St. John's its first loss of the season in a 3-1 (16-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23) decision. After dropping the first set 25-16 with a .088 hitting percentage, the Gauchos bounced back in the second to take a close set, which would serve as a preview for the final two games. 

For the second time this season, Lindsey Ruddins reached the 20-kill plateau, averaging five per set with a .214 clip. The redshirt freshman took the lion's share of swings with 42, nearly one third of UCSB's total attempts. Continuing with her standout weekend was Phoebe Grunt who finished with 12 kills with a sharp .450 kill percentage.

Hannah Juley recorded her third 40+ assist performance of the season and also picked up five digs, a category which Emilia Petrachi led the match in with 16.

In the blocking game, Chanel Hoffman and Megan Rice paced the roster with three blocks apiece. Those numbers helped Hoffman record 14.5 points (she also had 11 kills) and helped Rice reach a career-high.

After St. John's burst out of the gates with a .360 hitting percentage in the first set, the Gauchos quelled the Red Storm's offense in the second, which led to a pivotal victory.

With the score tied at 20-20, Grunt stepped up in the clutch with back-to-back kills, leading to a 3-0 Gaucho run. If that weren't enough, she threw down another kill to give UCSB set point at 24-22 before a St. John's service error officially gave the win to the Gauchos.

With Grunt delivering the heroics in the second, it was Ruddins who filled that role in the third, as she scored four of UCSB's final five points. In this game, the teams battled to a 19-19 score, Rice snapped the tie and triggered a 4-1 UCSB run that featured two Ruddins kills. The Red Storm threatened that lead briefly but cutting the deficit to one at 23-22, but Ruddins rose to the occasion and slammed home two consecutive kills to end the set.

Both teams fought tooth and nail in the fourth quarter, as they once again found themselves in a late tie situation at 23-23. From the 20th point on, the Gauchos saw Ruddins deliver three kills, Hoffman record one kill, and Elizabeth Sheffield put up a solo block, all the while making sure St. John's never scored twice in a row. After Ruddins gave the Gauchos match point, it came down to a Red Storm attack error to seal the win. 

UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO

UCSB's pin hitters led the way in to a season-high .377 hitting effort against San Francisco, while the defense held the Dons to an anemic .078 clip en route to a 3-0 sweep (26-24, 25-12, 25-15). 

"We were high error to start the match and I liked how we settled down into an earning mentality both for us while forcing USF to do so as well," Welch said. "Chanel was firing in all aspects of the game tonight and did so many important things for this team. We followed her lead."

Lindsey Ruddins and Chanel Hoffman carried the offense with 11 kills apiece, as Hoffman led the team with a first-rate attacking performance of a .588 clip. Behind them was Phoebe Grunt who held down the middle with seven kills and a .556 hitting percentage.

At setter, Hannah Juley guided the offense with 23 assists, while dealing some damage at the service line with three aces, matching a team-high with Lexi Rottman.

Defensively, the Gauchos recorded nine blocks, led by Hoffman's three, while Emilia Petrachi finished as the team's digs leader with 15.

The first set was the match's most competitive, as the teams battled into extras. After the Dons tied the game at 21-21 following a 3-0 run, the Gauchos were able to pull out ahead after a Ruddins kill and a solo block from Elizabeth Sheffield. San Francisco was able to tie the game after a service error, but the Gauchos were able to shrug it off with the help of service error and an ace from Lexi Rottman.

The Gauchos would later make sure that was the closest the match would get with decisive finishes in the second and third games.

In the second, UCSB hit for its best clip of the year with .688, led by Ruddins's three kills. While only attacking for one error, the Gauchos forced USF into a match-low -.043 hitting percentage.

After the break, UCSB continued with the momentum it picked up in the second set, as they took control of the third set early with a 4-0 run and would later tally six unanswered points to claim match point at 24-13. And while the Dons put up two more points to momentarily stave off elimination, Rottman delivered the final blow with her third service ace of the night.