UCSB Hosts UC Irvine Tuesday, Hits Road on Weekend for Big West Openers

Lexi Rottman (Photo by Jeilo Gauna)
Lexi Rottman (Photo by Jeilo Gauna)
• The Schedule
Tuesday, September 18, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. PDT
UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Irvine
at The Thunderdome in Santa Barbara, Calif.
All-time record vs. Anteaters: 72-15
Record in Lantagne Welch era: 5-5
Streak vs. UCI: Lost 1
Last meeting: L, 3-1 (11/21/17 @ UCI)
Friday, September 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. PDT
UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside
at SRC Arena in Riverside, Calif.
All-time record vs. Highlanders: 35-5
Record in Lantagne Welch era: 6-4
Streak vs. UCR: Lost 1
Last meeting: L, 3-0 (11/18/17 @ UCR)
Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. PDT
UC Santa Barbara at Cal State Fullerton
at Titan Gym
All-time record vs. Titans: 67-8
Record in Lantagne Welch era: 10-0 24-4
Streak vs. CSF: Won 11
Last meeting: W, 3-0 (11/17/17 @ CSF)
• UCSB Sweeps Final Day of Non-Conference Play
UC Santa Barbara (8-4) went 2-1 at the Roadrunner Classic this past weekend, responding from a 3-0 defeat to tournament host Cal State Bakersfield by downing Montana and South Dakota in straight sets. Lindsey Ruddins (5.67 K/S) and Lexi Rottman (0.89 SA/S) were both named to the All-Tournament Team. Ruddins hit over .300 for the second consecutive weekend, also averaging 2.89 digs and 0.67 blocks per set.
• Sweet September
Following a flawless final day of non-conference competition, UCSB returns home for its Big West opener against UC Irvine this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at the Thunderdome. The Gauchos open conference play winners in six of their last seven matches, taking an 18-7 advantage in sets won over that span. Ruddins has been near unstoppable, averaging 6.16 kills per set and hitting at a .344 clip since Sept. 1.
• First Test of the Big West
All but one of UCSB's wins in 2017 came during league play, as the Gauchos finished tied for fifth with a 7-9 conference mark. This year, Santa Barbara opens its Big West campaign tied with UC Davis for the second-best record at 8-4. It all starts Tuesday at home against a UC Irvine (6-6) side that has won five of its last six matches and is currently riding a season-best three-match win streak. On Friday, UCSB travels south to take on UC Riverside (5-6) in its road conference-opener at 7:00 p.m.  The Highlanders possess one of the nation's top hitters in Kaiulani Ahuna (5.23 K/S), who last week was ranked fourth in the nation – one spot behind Ruddins – in kill average. The Gauchos will close the opening week out at Cal State Fullerton (6-6) on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. The Titans have never beaten UCSB during the Lantagne Welch era, having lost 11 straight and dropping 24 of 28 sets to the Gauchos since 2012.
• Digs For Days
Libero Emilia Petrachi continued her rise up the UCSB all-time charts this past weekend, tallying 26 digs (2.89 D/S) to bring her career total to 1,619. She is currently tied with Roberta Gehlke (1996-99) for third in program history. The senior from Italy currently sits third in the conference in digs (197) and fourth in dig average (4.28 D/S), categories which she has finished either first or second in each of the past two seasons. On Sept. 3, she was named the Big West Defensive Player of the Week for the sixth time in her career, just one shy of the conference record. She has had at least 20 digs in five of 12 outings this year and needs only 124 more to set the school record.
• Hammer Time
Last year's NCAA kills leader has been nearly unstoppable the past two weeks, hitting over .350 in five of six contests and going for 22 or more kills on four occasions. Ruddins paces the conference in kills (5.57 K/S) thanks to a career-best .296 hitting percentage which has her ranked 10th in the Big West overall and third among outside hitters. She has already registered at least 26 kills five times this season, something she did just nine times prior to 2018.
• Fantastic Freshman
Freshman setter Olivia Lovenberg's10.44 assists per set at the Roadrunner Classic was her lowest statistical output since the first weekend of her career, when she averaged 9.46 at the Miami Invitational. Relative to her lofty standards, one might see that as a dip in production. However, the 10.44 assist average was still higher than any Big West player's average for the season. A two-time Big West Freshman of the Week, Lovenberg paces the conference in both assists per set (11.33 A/S) and total assists (521). She is on pace for 1,215 assists this season, which would make her just the second Gaucho to cross the 1,000 assist mark during the Lantagne Welch era.
• Dig This
The Gauchos hit at a .229 clip through their first six matches, good for fifth in the conference through two weeks. Since then, UCSB has posted a .289 hitting percentage, moving them into second in the Big West (.256). They enjoyed their best weekend of the year during the Thunderdome Classic, when they hit .326 as a team. There are three Gauchos currently making up the conference's top-10: Charlie Robinson (.353, 4th), Rowan Ennis (.328, 7th) and Lindsey Ruddins (.296, 10th).
• Stat-Sheet Stuffer
Lindsey Ruddins put together an historic 2017 campaign last year, becoming the first Gaucho ever to lead the nation in kills per set (5.84 K/S). Finding a consistent second producer was difficult however, as reflected by UCSB's 8-20 overall mark. The Gauchos appear to have found that missing piece this season in junior transfer Torre Glasker, who spent time playing at both outside hitter and libero in two seasons at Utah. Glasker's all-around game has her ranked in the Big West's top-12 in four different categories this season: third in aces (0.37 SA/S), ninth in digs (145), 10th in points (144.5) and 12th in kills (116). Glasker had a career-high 20 digs against McNeese State on Sept. 1, making her just one of three Gauchos to reach the 20-dig mark since 2015.
• Serve's Up
Lexi Rottman has been relied upon as UCSB's go-to serve specialist for  several seasons. This past weekend, the senior reached new heights, setting a career-high with seven aces in the sweep over Montana on the way to her first career All-Tournament selection. Despite playing only half the rotation, Rottman finished with the most aces per set (2.33 SA/S) in the Big West this season. It was both the second-highest aces per set average and the second-most total aces for a single match in UCSB's rally scoring history. She served eight consecutive times in two different sets, both times resulting in 7-0 Gaucho runs to give her team control of the match. As a result, UCSB moved up from last week's 4th-highest ranking in the conference (1.43 SA/S) to first (1.65 SA/S).
• Cardiac 'Chos
UCSB hasn't gone the distance in any of its last eight matches, but it went to five sets in three of its first four to start the season, equaling its total from last year. Santa Barbara is 1-2 in five-set matches in 2018 and 10-17 all-time under head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. When the Gauchos faced Denver back on Aug. 31, the Pioneers pulled out one of the longest fifth sets in Gaucho history, 25-23, following a furious finish that included 17 ties and six lead changes. Prior to that, a fifth set had been won with more than 15 points only three times during the Lantagne Welch era, each time ending 16-14.
• We Want More of Set 4
The Gauchos have played in 46 sets this year, going 28-18 overall. They have been at their best in the fourth set of matches, boasting a perfect 7-0 mark.
• Brooms Out!
Following the Denver Classic (Aug. 31-Sept. 1), UCSB's trio of Lindsey Ruddins (Offensive PoW), Emilia Petrachi (Defensive PoW) and Olivia Lovenberg (Freshman of the Week) claimed all three of the Big West weekly awards. It marked the second straight September that the Gauchos garnered a conference award sweep, with Ruddins, Petrachi and Nicole Omwanghe accomplishing the feat back on Sept. 25, 2017. UCSB won four of the first six PoW awards this season.
The Gauchos will play their only ESPN3 matchup during conference play when they travel to face UC Irvine on Nov. 8 at 7:00 p.m.