Streaking Gauchos Return Home to Host CSUF, UCR on Senior Night

Elizabeth Sheffield (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Elizabeth Sheffield (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

• The Schedule
Friday, November 11, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs Cal State Fullerton (6-19, 1-10)

At The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Titans: 64-8
Last meeting: W, 3-1 (Oct. 15, 2016) 

Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.
UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Riverside (7-16, 2-9)

At The Thunderdome
All-time record vs. Highlanders: 34-3
Last meeting: L, 3-1 (Oct. 16, 2016)

• Last Weekend Recap

UCSB has played perhaps its best volleyball of the season over the last three weeks, extending to a four-match winning streak after road victories over UC Davis and UC Irvine to kick off the final month of play. Against the Aggies, the Gauchos pulled off their second 2-0 comeback of the season behind Chloe Allen and Elizabeth Sheffield's career-highs of 19 and 14 kills, respectively. Two nights later, UCSB would sweep an overmatched UC Irvine side behind a near triple-double from Lindsey Ruddins, who finished with 15 kills, nine digs and a career-high eight aces in just three sets. 

• Preview

After two weeks away from home, the Gauchos return to the Thunderdome this weekend for rematches against Cal State Fullerton (Friday) and UC Riverside (Saturday). The Titans have not won a match since their conference season-opener against UCR, dropping 10 straight matches, including a 3-1 home loss to UCSB back on Oct. 15. In that match, the Gauchos held Fullerton to just a .151 hitting percentage thanks to a season-high 29 digs from Emilia Petrachi. The Highlanders meanwhile are coming off a 3-0 win over Fullerton. Prior to that, they had lost five straight matches, getting swept in four of them. They defeated UCSB 3-1 on Oct. 14 behind 26 kills and 11 digs from Mickayla Sherman.

• Fantastic Freshman

Just when defenses thought they had seen it all from Lindsey Ruddins this season, she gives them another thing to worry about. The Gauchos' unstoppable freshman earned her fifth Big West Freshman of the Week on Monday thanks to yet another dominant weekend that saw her average a prolific 1.38 aces per set. That mark is higher than the team averages of six Big West schools. Ruddins simply had her way with the Anteaters on Saturday night, finishing with a near triple-double. She averaged 5.0 kills and 3.0 digs per set while terrorizing Irvine from the service line to the tune of eight aces through just three sets, setting both a personal career-high and a Big West season-high. Overall this season, Ruddins is second in the Big West and 48th in the nation at 4.02 kills per set. She also averages 0.25 aces (11th in BW) and 2.10 digs per set (30th).

• Serve's Up

Aside from Ruddins' recent outburst from the service line, the Gauchos have been excellent with their serving all season, leading the Big West at 1.66 aces per set. Since the start of Big West play, that number has increased to 1.73, well ahead of second-ranked UC Irvine's mark of 1.46. Lexi Rottman and Hannah Juley lead UCSB with 27 and 24 aces on the year, respectively.

• Going Out With A Bang

UCSB's recent run of good play has coincided with the emergence of senior middle blocker Elizabeth Sheffield, who has saved some of her best performances for the second half of the season. During the Gauchos' four-match winning streak, Sheffield has averaged 2.78 kills per set on an efficient .422 hitting percentage. She recorded a career-high 14 kills in UCSB's comeback effort against UC Davis this past weekend just one match after setting another career-high with eight blocks at Cal Poly. The eight blocks were tied for the second-most of any Gaucho this season.

• Get Set

Although Lindsey Ruddins has gotten most of the recognition out of UCSB's talented group of freshmen this year, Hannah Juley has been right there with her in terms of her importance to the team's success. Juley is fourth in the Big West in assists per set at 10.08. Since the start of league play, she has improved that number to 10.33. Two weeks ago, she earned her first Big West Freshman of the Week, notching a double-double with 31 assists and 11 digs in a road sweep over Cal Poly. With the Gauchos trailing 20-24 in the third set, she played a part in every point for the remainder of the match, earning an assist and two aces as UCSB went on a 6-0 run to end the game. Her 897 assists this season are the most for any player during the Lantagne Welch era (2013). She is on pace to become the first Gaucho setter since Hanna Nielson (2011) to reach the 1,000 assist mark. 

• Fresh Legs

It's been an outstanding year for UCSB's freshmen, taking home Freshman of the Week honors in six out of 11 weeks. Surprisingly enough, yet another freshman has emerged as a key contributor at this late stage in the season. Filling in for Chanel Hoffman this past weekend, Chloe Allen led the Gauchos' comeback against UC Davis, finishing with a match-high 19 kills while hitting at a .394 clip. Over the past three matches, she has averaged 3.56 kills per set on a .288 hitting percentage.

• Tenacious D

Emilia Petrachi has been one of the Gauchos' most consistent players all season, leading the conference with 4.57 digs per set and 407 digs overall. After recording a team-high 20 digs in just three sets against UC Irvine on Saturday, Petrachi has now reached the 20-dig mark six times this season. It was also the second time she's done so while playing only three sets. The Italian national has failed to reach double-digit digs just twice in 25 appearances this year, helping her to two Big West Defensive Player of the Week awards.

• Senior Block Party

As a team, the Gauchos have been a force to be reckoned with at the net, as they are currently second in the Big West with 2.43 blocks per set, behind only No. 14 Hawai'i. Elizabeth Sheffield and Phoebe Grunt both average 0.89 blocks per set to lead the team. Since the beginning of conference play, Sheffield has raised her average to 1.03 blocks per set, good for the seventh best mark in the Big West. Prior to Saturday's match with UCR, both Sheffield and Grunt will be honored for Senior Night.