Despite coming home for its time this season, the UCSB women’s volleyball team struggled in its annual Thunderdome Classic, dropping all three of its matches to opponents Yale, No.19 USC, and Arkansas.
The Gauchos are now 0-9 early this season but have yet to participate in Big West Conference play which is set to begin on Friday, September 22. The nine-game losing streak is also the longest UCSB has suffered since 2015 when it lost 11 straight matches after starting the season 4-1.
In their first match of the tournament which began Friday afternoon, Santa Barbara lost to Yale (4-2) three sets to one. All four sets were incredibly close nail-biters with either team only winning each by the minimum two points.
The Bulldogs barely snagged the first two sets 25-23 and 26-24 and the Gauchos took another tight third set 28-26 to avoid a three-set sweep, but Yale still came out on top after winning the fourth set 25-23 for a final score of 3-1.
Santa Barbara outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins showcased her power with a whopping 29 kills as well as 16 digs on defense to achieve a double-double, her third of the season so far. Her 13 kills in the third set alone led the Gauchos to a victory after coming back from an early 7-1 deficit, but even though she was a driving force in putting up a team total of 60 kills compared to Yale’s collective 56, her dominance was not quite enough to take the match.
UCSB closed out the evening facing USC (7-2) for its second match of the day, but with four of the six Gaucho starters out due to injury, the Trojans made quick work of the home team with scores 15-25, 16-25, 20-25 to give the No. 19 team in the country a quick 3-0 victory.
Despite USC putting up a .389 kill percentage while UCSB presented a measly .074, Santa Barbara’s defense enhanced notably by the third set of the match. The Gauchos strongly recorded five team blocks and forced the previously errorless Trojans from the first two sets to make nine attack errors. They even turned around and tied the third set at 17-all, but after a USC timeout, the visitors’ went on an 8-3 run to finish it.
Despite not being able to have a chance to win their own tournament, Saturday’s match against Arkansas still meant a lot to a Gaucho team that was still in search of their first win of the season.
The match was a tense five-set competition full of action. After some grappling on day one of the tournament, UCSB really played some of its best volleyball against the Razorbacks but was just shy of the win, losing the match 3-2 with set scores of 25-16, 20-25, 19-25, 25-21, 11-15.
The first set was particularly outstanding for the Gauchos as they routed a deciding score of 25-16 thanks to a hot .480 kill percentage with five kills from Ruddins, who ended the match with 24 total, three aces, and four blocks while Arkansas served zero aces and put up zero blocks.
However, UCSB then lost sets two and three 20-25 and 19-25 to give the Razorbacks the advantage going into the fourth set, but they battled back to stay alive and win the fourth 25-21.
The fifth and final set to 15 points came to an 8-8 tie, but Arkansas’ back-to-back kills from Pilar Victoria and Elizabeth Pamphile gave them the momentum to go on a 5-2 run with three more kills from Victoria to decide the final set at 15-11.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the women of Santa Barbara, but their solid performance throughout the match demonstrated a great deal of team cohesion and improvement. One could only hope that UCSB will be able to turn those positives into a win soon, especially before Big West play.
The Gauchos will be heading to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this upcoming weekend to compete in another four-team tournament, the Pitt Panther Challenge, beginning Friday, Septemeber 15 and concluding Saturday, Septemeber 16.