Gauchos to Open Big West Season with No. 14 Hawai'i

Hannah Juley & Phoebe Grunt (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Hannah Juley & Phoebe Grunt (Photo by Tony Mastres)

The Schedule
Friday, September 23, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 14 Hawai'i (7-4)
At The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Rainbow Wahine: 6-34
Last meeting: L, 3-0 (Nov. 21, 2015)
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Hawai'i Preview
UCSB will be hosting the conference's highest nationally ranked team in No. 14 Hawai'i to open Big West play. The Gauchos enter this week with the most wins of any Big West team with nine, while the Rainbow Wahine find themselves tied with Cal Poly for the league's second-best mark at 7-4. Hawai'i spent the entire preseason in Honolulu - most recently beating Pepperdine in back-to-back matches - and this Friday will be its first match off the island this season. With All-American opposite Nikki Taylor sidelined for the first weekend, Hawai'i opened the season 1-2, but it has gone 6-2 since her return. During that time, she was named the Big West Player of the Week two out of a possible three weeks.

Meet the Team
Immediately following Friday's match, the Gauchos will be hosting a Meet the Team event in the Thunderdome when they will sign autographs and pose with fans in UCSB's photo booth. This will be the first event of its kind that UCSB has held this season. The Meet the Team festivities will be available to anyone who attends the Hawai'i match. Tickets for the match are now available online, over the phone at 805.893.UCSB (8272), and at the Ticketing Office in the ICA Building.

California Mixer Recap
In preparation for their matchup with nationally ranked Hawai'i, the Gauchos saved its toughest non-conference tournament for last, as they went 1-2 at the California Mixer in San Diego. The tournament was co-hosted by San Diego State and No. 10 San Diego which both beat the Gauchos in straight sets. UCSB, however, picked up a sweep of its own against San Jose State when it hit for a weekend-high .287 clip. Even though it was the Gauchos' first losing weekend of the year, they still finished their non-conference schedule with a 9-4 schedule, which is their best start since 2009.

Rankings Update
After a 1-2 weekend in San Diego, the Gauchos are back on the bubble in PrepVolleyball.com's top 50 national ranking after holding the No. 46 spot a week ago. This is now the third straight week UCSB has been mentioned in PrepVolleyball.com's weekly update. Noting other Big West teams in the rankings, Hawai'i leads the pack at No. 11, Cal Poly checks in at No. 29, while UC Davis is with UCSB on the bubble.

Get Set
Setter Hannah Juley earned her first Big West Freshman of the Week nomination this week after averaging 11.11 assists per set at the California Mixer. Leading the Gauchos against their toughest weekend slate of the season, Juley quarterbacked UCSB to a .283 hitting clip along with a weekend-best .287 mark against San Jose State. Individually, she recorded 46 assists against San Jose State, the most she has had in a three-setter this year. Her superb setting benefited her teammates, as Phoebe Grunt swung for a career-high .700 against USD and Megan Rice also reached a career-high with 12 kills against San Jose State. With four .300-plus hitting matches from the Gauchos this season, Juley has guided UCSB to a .240 kill percentage on the season, ranking third in the league. 

Fantastic Freshman
Lindsey Ruddins has had a dynamite start to the 2016 season with 196 kills and a 4.45 kills per set average, which both rank second in the Big West. If that weren't impressive enough, consider that Ruddins is a redshirt freshman who is trailing seniors in the previously mentioned categories. Grouping her kills with her blocks and service aces, Ruddins is delivering 5.0 points per set, the 17th best mark in the NCAA and the second highest in the conference. After four weeks of non-conference play, Ruddins was named to three of a possible three all-tournament teams plus an MVP accolade at the USF Challenge. 

Just Keep Digging
Emilia Petrachi has spent the season's opening four weeks fixated among the Big West's top-five in the dig category, as she is currently second with 203 scoops. The sophomore averaged five digs per set last weekend against some stiff competition, which helped her raise her overall season average to 4.61, which is the second-best mark among Big West players. Petrachi has recorded at least 12 digs in all but one match this season and has now recorded five straight 14+ dig outings. Her best matches came at UNLV when she had 25 digs and versus New Mexico State with 27 scoops.

Go Go Chanel
In UCSB's 3-0 sweep of San Jose State, no one looked better attacking than Chanel Hoffman who finished with 14 kills and a season-high .429 hitting percentage. To top it off, she also recorded her third double-double of the season with 12 digs. Entering this week, Hoffman is UCSB's most offensively efficient pin hitter with a .264 clip, while her 137 kills and 3.11 kills per set average both rank 10th in the conference.

Block Party
Phoebe Grunt has made the most of her senior year so far, as she leads the Big West and is 21st in the nation with a .410 hitting percentage, while also ranking fifth in the league with 0.95 blocks per set. She is the only player in the conference to have an attacking clip greater than .400, while her 2.05 kills per set average is by far her best average in a single season. As mentioned before, she is coming off a .700 hitting performance against No. 10 San Diego, which adds to her collection of stellar outings this year that includes 12 kills (.450) against St. John's and a career-high 17 kills (.500) versus Albany. Heading into Friday's match, she has recorded at least eight kills in five of the past six matches. As a team, the Gauchos have been a force to be reckoned with at the net, as they currently lead the Big West with 2.78 blocks per set, which is .17 greater than Long Beach State's second-place average.

Serve's Up
UCSB stands as one of the Big West's best serving teams with 70 aces and 1.59 aces per set, which both rank second in the conference. Lexi Rottman is UCSB's most prolific server with 18 aces, averaging 0.42 per set, figures that both rank third in the Big West. Behind her is Hannah Juley who is tied for eighth with 14 aces and a 0.32 average.  The team's best weekend at the service line was at USF when it recorded back-to-back nine-serve performances against Brown and St. John's.