The UCSB women’s volleyball team’s travels continue as it will take on another slate of away matches against Montana St., the University of Pacific, and Utah State at the Utah State Invitational in hopes of shaking its current 0-3 winless start to the season.
Each team participating in the tournament has at least one loss thus far as Montana St. sits at 1-2, Pacific is 2-2 and hopes to extend its two-match winning streak, all while the hosting Aggies are 2-1.
In addition to looking for its first win, UCSB has an opportunity to help Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch reach the 300 career wins landmark. Reigning as the Big West’s winningest coach, Lantagne Welch enters the tournament with a career total of 298 wins.
In her time at the forefront of the Gaucho program, arriving in 2013, Lantagne Welch has won 55 matches.
The aftermath of last weekend’s season opening matches highlighted the Gauchos biggest concern: offensive and defensive efficiency.
Through three non-conference matches, UCSB ranks at the bottom of the Big West in hitting percentage with a .101 average. Whether it be service, attacking or blocking errors, Santa Barbara has had its fair share of self-inflicting mistakes on both sides of the net as it is responsible for a conference-leading 84 errors.
A majority of these miscues can be attributed to the Gauchos’ mix of experienced and newcomer players adjusting to one another so only time will tell. UCSB is is need of its role players to emerge when opponents begin to key in on it pair of strikers.
Regardless of the gameplay, containing the streaky start of Gauchos’ outside hitters Lindsay Ruddins and Chloe Allen will be a challenging task.
Big players step up in big games and Ruddins did exactly that in UCSB’s five-set clash against the No. 15 Florida St. Seminoles last Saturday.
Ruddins outshined the competition with a career-high 36 kills performance to earn the second all-time slot in UCSB history for single-match kills, two short of former Gaucho Roberta Gehlke’s all-time record of 38 kills.
UCSB’s redshirt second-year outside stud holds this season’s NCAA-high in single-match kills. Ruddins achievement of the 36 kills mark is a feat that no more than three players have recorded in a match in the past four seasons.
However, Ruddins did not play in the Gauchos’ last outing against Baylor due to undisclosed reasoning.
Complementing Ruddins success is Allen, who is coming into her own to begin the season. Already embracing a larger role in her sophomore year, Allen made a splurge facing the Florida St. as well with a career-high 24 kills to complete her double-double of 15 digs. She is the only Gaucho with at least two double-figure kills totals in a match.
Such momentous play should help further establish the Gauchos search for offensive rhythm. While underestimating an opponent is never a wise judgment, UCSB’s first matchup of the tournament against Montana St. may be the perfect ‘pick me up’ to get things rolling.
Overlooking the Bobcats would be dangerous as they possess a veteran roster in which 13 of the team’s 16 players have been in the program for two years or less; it is a class that includes six freshmen.
Currently one match victory away from the .500 mark, Montana St. will hope to steer itself onto a winning track as the history of past seasons have been daunting.
The Bobcats have not had a winning season since 2012-13, in which they went 15-14, 9-11 in Big Sky play, and have not surpassed more than seven wins since then.
It has been a process of rebuilding for MSU as former Assistant Coach Daniel Jones is now serving as the program’s interim Head Coach. Making things a little easier for Jones and his staff on the court is the trio of outside hitters the program has.
Surprisingly, the triad is a young and fairly fresh group consisting of freshman Evi Wilson alongside sophomores Chase Doughty and Natalie Passeck. Each has at least 20+ kills, providing MSU with an array of scoring opportunities.
Aside from the points scored at the net, it has been the little things that have worked to the advantage of the Bobcats as well. Leading them has been freshman libero Alexis Goroski, and her success from behind the service line.
MSU recorded 21 service aces in its season opening weekend, making it 33rd in the nation in the statistical category. Goroski’s eight service aces tie her for 20th in the nation and second in the Big Sky Conference.
While kills, blocks, and digs typically are the most important advantage to pursue as a team, it seems like the minor dimensions of the match such as errors, service aces and more will determine how both UCSB and Montana St. perform on Friday.
The weekend will continue and conclude with doubleheader matches against Pacific and host Utah St.
Despite the loss of one of the program’s best players in school history, Lexi Elman, who joined U.S. Olympian Elaina Oden as one of only two Tiger players ever to notch 1,200 or more career kills and digs; Pacific has held its own through four matches.
The Tigers are currently on a two-match winning streak and has been striking the ball with no hesitation to much success. In three of its four matches, Pacific has hit at least a .300+ clip, the highest being .430 in its sweep of Idaho last Saturday.
Looking ahead, it is a home opening weekend for the Aggies. Utah St. opened its non-conference schedule at the Arkansas Classic.
Helping guide the Aggies to consecutive wins in the team’s first two matches was senior outside Lauren Anderson.
Her totals of 41 kills, 4.10 kills per set average, 18 digs, five blocks and five service aces led Utah St. to the tournament’s finale as Anderson was selected to the Arkansas Classis All-Tournament team. She fell one kill short of tying her career-high of 23 kills in a win over Cal State Bakersfield.
UCSB faces Montana St. at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept.1. It will finish out the invitational with contests against Pacific at 9 a.m. and Utah St. at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2.