After impressive performances in the season’s two opening weekends resulted in a rock solid 5-2 start, this UCSB team still appears to have room to improve as the season continues.

Traveling to USF for the San Francisco Challenge, the Gauchos swept their three matches against Brown, Saint John’s and the hosting university, losing only one set over the two days.

In their first match, UCSB controlled each game, winning 25-18, 25-11 and 25-21. Propelled by several three, four and five point runs, the Gauchos never faced much of a threat from the Bears.

A team-heavy approach was in order for the Gauchos, who had six players contribute at least four kills. UCSB’s outside hitters were outstanding, with redshirt freshman Lindsey Ruddins contributing seven kills, freshman Megan Rice adding six and junior Chanel Hoffman rounding out the unit with five more.

Freshman Charlie Robinson and senior Phoebe Grunt were also tremendous for the Gauchos at middle blocker; Robinson had six kills on 11 attempts, good for a team-best .545 kill percentage, and Grunt’s 10.5 points were good for second highest for the match.

UCSB hit a much higher percentage than Brown throughout the match, staying over .300 for all three games, and topping .400 in the first frame. Though the Bears hit .368 to open the match, the team followed with a dismal second set including 10 errors on the way to a -.143 hitting percentage.

Brown’s junior libero and defensive specialist Melissa Cairo impressed on defense, securing more digs (10) than any other player in the match, and sophomore hitter Sabrina Stillwell still managed to come away with seven kills.

The second match was UCSB’s closest of the day, as an undefeated St. John’s team came out fast with a 25-16 win in the opening set.

The Gauchos hit a poor .088 compared to the Red Storm’s .360 and committed nine errors to St. John’s one, leading to a mess of a first game for UCSB.

They would come back to win the next three sets 25-22, 25-22 and 25-23 on the back of a match-high 20 kills from Lindsey Ruddins, who continues to rack up points for the Gaucho offense. Her dominant performance was paired with sophomore defensive specialist Emilia Petrachi’s, who carried the UCSB defense with 16 digs, also tops for the contest.

UCSB was able to best St. John’s in hitting percentage for the remainder of the match, accumulating 16 and 15 kills in the final two sets.

Each of the games were close with both teams trading impressive runs throughout the entire match, easily UCSB’s most difficult in San Francisco.

St. John’s was led by strong efforts from their outside hitters, sophomore Margherita Bianchin and freshman Gaia Traballi, who amassed 14 and 12 kills respectively. Junior middle blocker Julia Cast and senior outside hitter Mona Karkkainen, both of whom also spend time at opposite hitter, turned in important performances as they were the third and fourth players on St. Johns to have double digit points.

The Gauchos finished Saturday’s double header strong, beating the host USF in straight sets 26-24, 25-12 and 25-15.

Starting quickly was again an issue for the Gauchos, as a back and forth game appeared almost out of reach after falling behind 24-21. UCSB would fight back several set points, however, as a calm approach allowed them to maintain their focus and stave off their second lost game of the day.

UCSB still held a strong advantage over the Dons in kill percentage in the first set, suggesting the gap between the two teams may have been wider than the score suggested. Such a hypothesis was strongly supported throughout the final two frames, with the Gauchos dominating the second set on the back of a game-winning 12-5 run and a staggering .688 kill percentage.

The final set started with a 6-1 Gaucho run, and another six-point burst would all but seal the game and end the match.

Lindsey Ruddins and Chanel Hoffman were again offensive centerpieces for UCSB, each totaling double-digit points, while Emilia Petrachi turned in another day’s work with 15 digs.

Redshirt freshman setter Hannah Juley and sophomore defensive specialist Lexi Rottman added 8 and 7 digs respectively, completing a great defensive effort from the Gauchos which saw the Dons finish with hitting percentages of -.043 and .057 in the final games.

USF’s outside hitters played a solid game, with freshman Tyna Adamcikova providing 13 points and senior Emily Reed adding nine of her own.

Lindsey Ruddins was named the tournament’s most outstanding player with 38 kills and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Phoebe Grunt.

This was Ruddins’s third time in as many opportunities this season making the all-tournament team, as well as her third time being awarded the Big West Freshman of the Week. Ruddins was nominated for the Player of the Week as well, and with her dominant play it would not be a surprise to see her take home that acknowledgment sooner than later.

The Gauchos sit atop the Big West at 8-2 and will travel next to San Diego where they will participate in the California Mixer with San Diego State, San Jose State and USD on September 16 and 17.