The UCSB women’s volleyball team started the season in impressive fashion over the final weekend in August, collecting two wins in three matches. After dropping their opening match 3-0 to the UNLV Rebels, the Gauchos steadied the ship, beating New Mexico State and Albany University, 3-2 and 3-1 respectively.

The Gauchos kept it close with the Rebels in the first set, losing 29-27. After an attack error by UNLV redshirt sophomore outside hitter Caitlin Wernentin put UCSB up 27-26, an attack error by UCSB junior outside hitter Chanel Hoffman, followed by kills from UNLV senior outside hitter Alyssa Wing and sophomore middle blocker Elsa Descamps, sealed the set for the Rebels.

UNLV controlled the second set 25-16, dominating the Gauchos in hitting percentage .400 to .182 after both teams hit around .275 in the first set. UNLV held second set advantages of three in both errors and kills, and a five-point run, pushing the lead from 15-13 to 20-13, all but sealed the Gauchos fate.

UCSB played well in the final frame, however, as the game was tied 25-25 before kills by redshirt senior middle blocker Bree Hammel and senior outside hitter Elisa Woinowsky, both of which were assisted by junior setter Alexis Patterson, propelled UNLV over the enduring Gauchos.

Redshirt freshman Lindsey Ruddins, an outside hitter, stood out for the Santa Barbara squad.  She led the match in points with 16.5, edging out UNLV’s Bree Hammel by a point and a half. Ruddins had a whopping 46 total attacks, 15 more than Hammel and 17 more than Alyssa Wing, the match’s second and third most active attackers.

A disheartening first match didn’t deter the Gauchos from a successful day, as the following contest against New Mexico State was an absolute thriller. Lasting five games, the match saw UCSB battle back from two sets down, once again on the back of Lindsey Ruddins and her match-high 26 points.

The Aggies took the first two sets 30-28 and 25-22 before the Gauchos stormed back, winning the next three sets 25-23, 25-19 and 15-13.

Ruddins repeated her performance as the match’s most valuable player with 65 attacks and 24 kills, both match highs. Chanel Hoffman, senior middle blocker Phoebe Grunt and freshman middle blocker Charlie Robinson each added double digit points for the Gauchos, and Grunt and freshman middle blocker/opposite hitter Rowan Ennis contributed impressive hitting percentages of .316 and .471 respectively.

After reaching a 14-14 draw midway through the fourth set, the Gauchos ended the game with an 11-5 run, giving the team a boost of momentum heading into the tie-breaker. The final game was close, but UCSB again pulled away at the end, sealing their first victory of the day on a Ruddins kill, assisted by redshirt freshman setter Hannah Juley.

The Aggies received important contributions from across the roster, including junior outside hitter Jordan Abalos, sophomore outside hitter Tatyana Battle, junior middle hitter Sasha-Lee Thomas, and junior outside hitter Kassandra Tohm. Each of the four totaled at least 16 kills as the Gauchos faced a relentless effort all evening from the NMSU hitters.

In their final match of the day, the Gauchos sent Albany to 0-3 on the weekend, with sets of 27-25, 23-25, 25-23 and 25-21.

The Great Danes kept it close with a spirited performance from sophomore libero Nicole Otero, who amassed 27 digs — 10 more than any other player in the contest — and a balanced attack, with four players finishing with double-digit points.

The Gaucho offense proved too much for Albany, however, as Ruddins continued her stellar performance and completed her third game of the Invitational in which she led all players in points, attacks, and kills. The redshirt first-year was a revelation in her first weekend of the 2016 season, and after an injury-marred 2015, Ruddins appears to be on pace for a dominant season leading the Gauchos offense.

Phoebe Grunt also contributed 17 kills in the final match — second only to Ruddins — completing a solid weekend of her own. Sophomore defensive specialist Emilia Petrachi was vital to the Gaucho’s solid defense over the weekend, amassing a staggering 64 digs and leading all players in the first two matches with 25 and 27 digs respectively.

UCSB will play next at the UCSB Tournament over Labor Day weekend.