SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team begins its season tomorrow at the Baylor Tournament, taking on Illinois State at 2:00 p.m. PT in the season opener before facing Florida State and the host Bears later in the weekend. To prepare for the upcoming season, UCSBGauchos.com will break down the team's four position units – defensive specialists, middle blockers, setters, and pin hitters – concluding today with the pin hitters.
Compared to the other positions on the floor, UCSB will have the most continuity at the pins this season, with every key pin hitter returning from last year's squad. Between sophomore All-American Lindsey Ruddins – one of the top players in the Big West Conference – multiple All-Big West choice and co-team captain Chanel Hoffman, promising youngsters Chloe Allen and Charlie Robinson, and LA Pierce College transfer Megan Weaver, UCSB head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch sports one of the deepest and most talented stables of pins in the league.
As an experienced and decorated unit, the Gauchos' pins will be relied upon for consistent production and will need to be at the top of their games early as new starters at setter and middle blocker get their feet wet at the Division I level.
Any discussion about UCSB's pin hitters starts with Ruddins, who exploded onto the scene last year as a redshirt freshman with one of the most impressive debut seasons in program history. Standing six-foot-two, Ruddins quickly emerged as UCSB's top option on the outside in 2016, ending the year with a 4.09 kills per set average, a figure which led the team, ranked third in the conference, and ranked fourth nationally among freshmen. She was rewarded for her dominant season with a slew of postseason awards, most notably being named an AVCA All-American and the Big West Freshman of the Year.
Heading into the new campaign, Ruddins will once again be UCSB's top option on the left side, and Gaucho fans can expect to see her swing early and often.
"There's no doubt Lindsey is an incredible point-scorer, she's shown the ability to score from anywhere on the floor," said Lantagne Welch. "She does more than score though - she puts up a big block, passes and defends well, and cant take over games with her serve, which she did on multiple occasions last year. She's also clutch in the big moments, and we'll need that from her."
While Ruddins' big numbers grabbed headlines and won awards, Hoffman had an extremely productive season of her own in 2016, finishing with over three kills and two digs per set en route to an All-Big West honorable mention. A well-rounded player, she has also shown the ability to take over matches when called upon, evidenced by her 19 kills in three games against Long Beach State last year when Ruddins was on the shelf. One of two true seniors on the squad, she will once again be looked to as a calming influence on the floor.
"Chanel is our most experienced player on the floor," said Lantagne Welch. "She's started since she was a freshman, and she does everything well. She's probably our hardest hitter, has been effective on both the left and right sides, and is a court leader."
Allen, a Santa Barbara local, turned heads late in the 2016 season with her solid play down the stretch in place of Hoffman, who missed the final month of the season due to injury. Just a true freshman, she notched eight or more kills in five of the final six matches of the season, including a breakout 19-kill performance against UC Davis on Nov. 3.
"Chloe really came on strong late last season, and she's continued working hard towards providing more consistency," said Lantagne Welch. "She's a really good passer, hits a heavy ball, and has shown solid all-around skills."
Robinson impressed in a dual middle-right side role last year, posting solid averages of 1.15 kills and 0.67 blocks per set in limited action. Her versatility allows Lantagne Welch to move her back to middle should the need arise.
"Charlie can be effective on one foot or two, which gives us a nice dimension as a right side hitter," said Lantagne Welch. "She has the all-around skill set to come in and play any position to help the team. Not only can she score with her quickness, she also sets up a nice block to help funnel balls where we need them."
A key figure on an LA Pierce team that went 30-4 last season, Weaver arrives at UCSB after two solid seasons in the San Fernando Valley. She notched a .302 hitting percentage with the Brahmas last season and will be called upon as a depth right side option with experience and savvy.
"Megan has great energy on the court," said Lantagne Welch. "She will provide us quality depth on the pins."
The Gauchos play their first home matches of the new season on Sept. 8 and 9 as part of the Thunderdome Classic. Season tickets are now available for the 2017 season and can be purchased by calling 805-893-UCSB or by clicking here.