SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Improbable diving saves have been a staple at UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball matches in recent seasons, thanks in large part to the lightning fast reflexes and steadfast determination of libero Emilia Petrachi.
On that front, Tuesday night's match at the Thunderdome between UCSB (12-6, 4-2) and CSUN (5-11, 1-3) was no different. The Modena, Italy native provided her usual defensive prowess, leaping, sliding, extending, and diving throughout the night, anchoring her team's defense en route to a dominant 3-0 sweep over the Matadors.
However, it was one of the senior's least challenging digs of the night – a simple bump pass off a soft lob shot at the net – that would turn out to be one for the books. With her eighth dig of the night midway through the second set, Petrachi surpassed Leah Sully atop the Gaucho record book, becoming the program's all-time leader in digs.
"I was very anxious. I thought, 'What if I don't get it?' And when I got it, I could kind of relax," Petrachi said after the match. "It's great. It's awesome. I'm still in shock. When I got off the court, [head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch] gave me a high five and shook my hand, and then I knew, this is happening. It's not a dream."
Petrachi would finish with a team-high 15 digs on the night, giving her a grand total of 1,750 since the start of the 2015 season. She has now led her team in digs an incredible 86 times out of 102 career matches. She has reached double-figure digs on 90 separate occasions.
"This school has had so many great players at the top of this list. I'm thinking, 'Wow, do I deserve this even?'" Petrachi said. "I still can't comprehend what this entails, really, but it's such an honor."
This is the second time in six years that head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch has witnessed this record being broken. It was in UCSB's 2013 regular season finale, during her first year at the helm of the Gauchos, when she watched Leah Sully leapfrog past Kristin Nelson for the most in program history at the time.
While Lantagne Welch had tremendous respect and appreciation for Sully's accomplishment, it bears a different kind of significance this time around, given the fact that she is the one who recruited Petrachi and has now coached her for nearly three seasons longer.
"It's a special moment anytime someone can get a record, because we all know how hard that is to do in any aspect. I'm so proud of her for all the effort that she puts in every single day to be better and to better herself," Lantagne Welch said. "The really cool thing is that playing well and helping the team really matters to her, and you really feel that, so that makes it really special."
As a team, UCSB was actually outdug by CSUN 42 to 41. However, the Gauchos were much more efficient on the offensive end, taking a .283 to .167 edge in hitting percentage. Redshirt junior Lindsey Ruddins had a match-high 17 kills, hitting at a conference-best .405 clip and picking up 10 digs for her sixth double-double in seven outings.
Santa Barbara pulled away late in set one, beginning with a Ruddins kill which broke an 18-18 tie. The Gauchos would win seven of the final nine points, winning the set 25-20 on a kill by Rowan Ennis.
UCSB would nearly let set two slip away, seeing an eight-point lead turn into a 24-22 deficit. However, the Gauchos would find an answer on three different Matador set points. Ruddins then provided the finishing touches with back-to-back bombs from the service line, putting away two of her season-high five aces in clutch fashion.
"We got to work through some of our struggles tonight in that second set," Lantagne Welch said. "It was almost a good thing we got that, because we got to fight back and pull out on top, and that was growth for us."
In the third and final set, unlike in their defeat to UC Davis this past Saturday, UCSB would put the game to bed in commanding fashion. The Gauchos hit a match-best .458 hitting percentage, compared to just .000 by the Matadors, winning it 25-12 to claim their first home sweep during Big West play.
"We put a team away. I felt like it's been a while since we really just put a team away," Lantagne Welch said. "I'm really proud of the team for really taking charge in that third set and never looking back. Having that kind of mentality is just going to build confidence and I know we're going to be fired up for our next opponent."
UCSB closes out its season-long four-match home stand this Friday against Hawai'i at 7:00 p.m. Following that, the Gauchos won't be back at the Thunderdome until Nov. 2, as they hit the road for four straight matches and six of their next seven.