Gauchos Close Out Season With Home Match Against UC Irvine

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

• The Schedule
Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 5 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara (17-11, 8-7) vs UC Irvine (11-18, 6-9)
At The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Anteaters: 71-13
Last meeting: W, 3-0 (Nov. 5, 2016)

• Weekend Recap

UCSB came out strong to begin its only match of the weekend against No. 13 Hawai'i on Saturday night, taking the first set 25-21 behind eight kills and three aces from Lindsey Ruddins. The Gauchos hit for .395 as a team in the opening set, ending the Rainbow Wahine's run of 25 straight sets without a loss. Hawai'i would go on to win the next three sets, but not before Ruddins would bring her kill total up to 21 while hitting at a .235 clip. Despite facing the most lethal offense in the Big West and one of the best in the entire nation, Emilia Petrachi had a stellar night on the defensive end, finishing with 25 digs (6.25 digs per set). Petrachi has now reached 20 digs in four straight matches, the longest streak of her career.

• Preview

The Gauchos will close out the 2016 season against UC Irvine, a team they defeated 3-0 on the road back on Nov. 5. In that match, Lindsey Ruddins had one of the best performances of her early career, finishing with a near triple-double in front of an ESPN3 audience on the way to her fifth Big West Freshman of the Week award of the season. Ruddins finished with 15 kills (5.0 per set), nine digs (3.0 per set) and a career-high eight aces (2.67 per set). UCSB ended the night with a .281 hitting percentage, its second-highest mark in Big West play.

• Fantastic Freshman

Despite being slowed down by an injury at the beginning of conference play, Lindsey Ruddins has had an incredible year. Her 4.13 kills per set ranks second in the Big West, 39th in the nation, and fourth among all Division I freshmen. Against Cal State Fullerton two weekends ago, she set multiple career-highs with 27 kills and 15 digs in a 3-1 win. After bursting onto the scene with three straight Freshman of the Week awards to start the season, her overall game has continued to see a steady improvement over the course of the season. Ruddins had just two aces through her first 18 matches, but in her last seven outings alone, she's tallied an incredible 26 points from the service line, putting her at 0.92 aces per set over that span. She's ranked second in the Big West in aces during conference play with 27 and has earned Freshman of the Week honors five times this year, the second-most of any player in Big West history.

• Sheffield and Grunt Play Their Final Match

UCSB seniors Elizabeth Sheffield and Phoebe Grunt will both play in their final match against the Anteaters. Sheffield has stepped up her game during conference play, averaging 2.20 kills per set, good for fifth on the team, and a team-leading 0.98 blocks per set. She has hit at a .312 clip this season, behind only Grunt, who boasts averages of 1.95 kills and 0.88 blocks per set and a .355 hitting percentage. Grunt has been named All-Big West Honorable Mention two times in her career, and received her first Golden Eagle Award in 2015 after holding the highest cumulative GPA on the team.

• Serve's Up

Even without Ruddins' recent run of aces, UCSB as a unit has been excellent with its serving all season, leading the Big West at 1.65 aces per set. Since the start of Big West play, that number has increased to 1.69 per set, well ahead of second-ranked UC Irvine's mark of 1.35. Lexi Rottman and Ruddins lead UCSB with 31 and 29 aces on the year, respectively.

• Block Party

As a team, the Gauchos have been a force to be reckoned with at the net, as they are currently second in the Big West with 2.38 blocks per set, behind only No. 13 Hawai'i. Against UC Riverside two Saturdays ago, UCSB had 17 total roofs, its highest total during league play. Both Elizabeth Sheffield and Phoebe Grunt average 0.88 blocks per set to lead the team. Since the beginning of conference play, Sheffield has raised her average to 0.98 blocks per set, tied for the fifth-best mark in the Big West.

• Tenacious D

Emilia Petrachi has been one of the Gauchos' most consistent players all year, leading the conference with 4.67 digs per set and 476 digs overall. Petrachi finished with 25 digs against Hawai'i on Saturday, marking the fourth straight match that she's reached the 20-dig mark, the longest run of her career. She is averaging 5.56 digs per set over that stretch. The Italian national has earned two Big West Defensive Player of the Week awards this year and has reached double-digit digs in 26 out of 28 matches.

• Get Set

Setter Hannah Juley has had an outstanding freshman season, ranking fourth in the Big West with 10.05 assists per set. Against Hawai'i this past Saturday, she finished with 34 assists, becoming the first Gaucho since Hanna Nielson in 2011 to reach the 1,000 assist mark. She now has 1,025 assists this year, more than any other player during the Lantagne Welch era (2013). Four weeks ago, she earned her first Big West Freshman of the Week award, notching a double-double with 31 assists and 11 digs in a road sweep over Cal Poly. With the Gauchos trailing 20-24 in the third set, she played a part in every point for the remainder of the match, earning an assist and two aces as UCSB went on a 6-0 run to end the match.

• Fresh Legs

It's been an outstanding year for UCSB's freshmen, with Ruddins and Juley accounting for six Freshman of the Week honors through 13 weeks of play. They haven't been the only freshmen putting up numbers though. With injuries giving her the opportunity late in the year, Chloe Allen has made a mark over the past three weeks, beginning with a career-high 19 kill match against UC Davis on Nov. 3. Since then, Allen has averaged a respectable 2.48 kills per set on a .233 hitting percentage.  Megan Rice has also shown her consistency this season, matching Ruddins as the only Gauchos with at least one kill in 26 out of 28 matches. Rice ranks fourth on the team with 133 kills.