Armani Smith (Baseball) by F.P. Santangelo Jr. 

Armani Smith scoops up a ground ball. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

At first glance, Armani Smith, does not look like a freshman. In fact, he is already built like the big-league prospect that he is. Standing at 6’3” and weighing 195 pounds, the young utility baseball player from De La Salle High School was drafted in the 35th round by the Cleveland Indians before arriving at UCSB.

In his first year, Smith burst onto the scene for the Gauchos, hitting well for the majority of the season while playing solid defense in the field. At one point, the freshman was batting third with an average north of .350. Although Smith cooled down a bit, the young Gaucho star finished the season hitting .285 with three homeruns, 24 runs batted in and 32 runs.

But those are just numbers. Smith’s play goes far deeper than what the numbers say. To simply put it, the kid does not get cheated at the plate. With every swing, even when fooled, Smith would let it fly. At times, Smith would swing so hard that even on misses the crowd would “Ooh” and “Ahh” in amazement. The three home runs hit by Smith were not your typical DI home runs, either. Smith would hit one out to deep right center, to deep center on a line and to left field that would clear not only the scoreboard but also the protective net that shields buildings near the stadium. That ball easily soared more than 400 feet, which is scary coming from a freshman. The kid has serious pop.

What was even more impressive than his tools, though, was how selfless he was for his team. Smith would rover from right field, to left field to second base while moving around in the line-up all season long. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but playing several positions while being moved around the line-up is one of the most uncomfortable things for a player to do, but Smith made it look easy. Without a doubt, for all his efforts, Armani Smith deserves to be the Nexus Sports Male Freshman of the Year.

Lindsey Ruddins (W Volleyball) by Omar Hernandez

Lindsey Ruddins soars through the air while serving. Dustin Harris/Daily Nexus

Lindsey Ruddins had one of the most dominant individual seasons of any athlete at UCSB this year. The redshirt freshman from Laguna Niguel was a scourge on the offensive end, earning the Big West Freshman of the Year award, which hadn’t been awarded to a Gaucho volleyball player since 2012.

She received a host of other accolades as well, making both the All-Big West and All-Freshman teams along with notching five Freshman of the Week awards.

On a national level, Ruddins became the first Gaucho since 2012 to be named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American team as an honorable mention, and she also earned honorable mention honors on the AVCA All-Pacific South Region team.

The year Ruddins had would be considered extraordinary for any player, much less a freshman. To be third in the conference in both kills per set (4.09) and total kills (389) and then sixth in the conference in service aces per set (.31) was no coincidence.

It shows only the dedication that Ruddins put into practice (redshirting her whole first year to hone her skills) but also her ability to translate what she has learned into an enormous impact on the court.

UCSB improved by five wins this season, and a lot of that improvement has to do with Ruddins’s exceptional year. Both she and the team have a lot of room to grow; the Gauchos have never made it to the final four of the NCAA tournament, and she still has three years to work on her game. If this year is any indication, however, we could be looking at one of the best talents to ever play for UCSB and a potential NCAA champion as well.

A version of these stories appeared on p. 8 of the June 8, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.

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