The Gauchos finished with a 3-0 record overall this past weekend and suffered just two set losses, one to San Diego and the other to Harvard.
A dominant showing by UCSB’s junior middle blocker Rowan Ennis was enough to earn her Big West Defensive Player of the Week honors. Ennis finished the weekend with 30 kills, 22 blocks and 11 digs while hitting .423.
A monstrous .650 hitting percentage and 13 kills easily put away Harvard in the last game of the tournament.
UCLA came to town Wednesday night to take on UCSB on Gauchos Give night.
The Bruins were coming off a 0-3 loss at Hawai’i and looking to get back on track before they face their infamous rival USC next Wednesday. Despite their 5-3 record overall coming into this matchup, UCLA had previously won five straight games thanks to junior Mac May and her 112 kills.
The Bruins continue to be one of the few teams nationwide to have only played three sets each game, but the Gauchos were able to turn the tables in this matchup with a dominating performance that led to their first victory over UCLA since 1998.
UCSB ended up sweeping the Bruins (25-16, 25-16, 28-26), finishing with a season high in kill percentage (.394) and a season low number of errors (nine).
Lindsey Ruddins was yet again the most dominant player on the court.
The senior outside hitter posted a monstrous 17 kills which led both teams and was also the leader in total points with 19. Ruddins has been on a tear to kick off her senior year, landing in the top-30 nationwide in both points per set and kills per set so far.
While her individual success is almost expected at this point, the way that the team has produced around her is what has really been special so far.
“I’m so excited for this team and for the future of this program,” Ruddins said postgame. “ I think that everyone is super dialed in to play their best, and just going out and taking it to these [top-ranked] teams.”
Ruddins’ performance was not even the most intriguing storyline of the night for the Gauchos however. That distinction belonged to freshman outside hitter Tallulah Froley.
The Half Moon Bay native had a career night, posting her career high in kills (15) and coming through for the team when they needed it the most.
Froley closed out the first and last sets with crucial kills that guaranteed the win for UCSB, and posted an extremely efficient .667 kill percentage which she made sure to point out was partially a result of the great sets she received from her teammates.
“I honestly think if I’m in the mindset of ‘just go out there and kill it,’ I’ll hopefully get [kills],” she explained. “[Setter] Olivia Lovenberg just gave me perfect opportunities and it was just fun to put away the ball.”
The Gauchos were actually down to set-point in the last set, trailing by a score of 21-24, before roaring back to claim the set 28-26 and finish off the historic sweep.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall a few times this season, even in five set matches, and that’s been good practice for us because we found ways to preservere,” Coach Welch pointed out postgame. “And it happened again tonight in a bigger moment.”
Looking ahead, 4-6 Pepperdine come to town Friday night coming off four straight losses and will be looking to right the ship before it’s too late.
UCSB has the upper hand in almost every major category, but it is the ability for teams to win the games they need to win that defines their mentality.
A win over the Waves is a must if this team is to compete with 9-0 Hawai’i and stave off 7-2 Fullerton.
UCSB’s seven-match win streak now puts them into a tie for the 12th best record in the nation and is their best start since 2002.
After a season that saw individual efforts win some games, the Gauchos have surged up the standings 10 games in and have proven to be cold-blooded killers. With a 28-9 set record thus far, UCSB has excelled at punishing opponents early and keeping the pressure on.
The upcoming match against Pepperdine will kick off at 6 p.m. on Friday night at the Thunderdome.
A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the Sept. 19, 2019, edition of the Daily Nexus.