Gauchos Snap Three-Match Win Streak, Fall in Four at CSUN

Charlie Robinson (photo by Eric Isaacs)
Charlie Robinson (photo by Eric Isaacs)

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – On most nights, outhitting the opponent is a recipe for victory. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team on Friday night at the Matadome, as a three-match winning streak was snapped by Cal State Northridge in a tight four-set affair. Set scores were 25-21, 25-21, 24-26, 27-25.

UCSB (3-12, 2-1 Big West) edged the Matadors (9-6, 3-0) .284 to .282 on hitting in the contest, including sizable advantages in the final two games (.400-.209, .265-.184 respectively). With 17 kills on .218 hitting, sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins was the Gauchos' top offensive performer, though sophomore Charlie Robinson (career-high 13 kills on .524 hitting) and freshman middle blocker Nicole Omwanghe (11 kills on .304 hitting) also performed very well. 

Junior setter Annie Hasselmann did a nice job spreading the ball around, finishing with 43 assists and six kills on 16 swings. She and sophomore outside hitter Chloe Allen, in her first match back since Sept. 2, led the squad with three aces apiece while sophomore defensive specialist Maxine Burke had two of her own off the bench. As per usual, junior libero Emilia Petrachi gave it her all in the back row, picking up a match-high 26 digs, bringing her league-high average to 5.13 per set. 

Despite a slow start, UCSB would hang tight and end up making the first set an extremely close affair. Shaking off a 9-3 deficit, the Gauchos began to make a charge back mid-set, reeling off four straight points, with highlights of the run including a Ruddins off-speed shot over the block and a solo block from Omwanghe on a CSUN dump attempt, to bring the deficit to 14-18 and force a Matador timeout.

Just when a CSUN service ace seemed to spell doom for the Gauchos at 22-17, UCSB stormed back with four straight points of their own, including a pair of aces off Hasselmann jump floats that were mishandled, to cut the host's lead to one. Unfortunately, that was as close as UCSB would get, with CSUN ending the set with four straight points.

Sustaining their momentum from the latter part of the first set, the Gauchos came out firing on all cylinders in the second, using a trio of Omwanghe kills to go up 6-2 early. UCSB continued to apply pressure on the Matadors, with Kjia Rivers contributing a kill on a spike from the right side and Maxine Burke serving an ace to extend the lead to 12-6. A pair of Matador miscues on the next two points – CSUN setter Lauren Conati went into the net and then a Matador hitter was whistled for a back row attack – gave UCSB its biggest lead of the frame at 14-6.

From there, CSUN steadily chipped away at the lead. A 5-2 run that made it 18-14 started the damage, and then the Matadors got dangerously close after middle blocker Rachel Diaz snuck a serve inside the right sideline for an ace to make it 19-17 UCSB. A few points later and the Gauchos found themselves in a 20-20 deadlock. CSUN would go on to close the set on a 5-1 run to take a 2-0 lead in the match. 

Similar to the second set, the Gauchos created separation early in the third at 7-4. Charlie Robinson was a key figure in the early advantage, chipping in kills off the slide to make it 5-3 and then on a tap-down to make it 7-4. UCSB continued to increase its lead – a Chloe Allen ace made it 9-5 and then later another Burke ace make it 12-6 in the visitor's favor – before the Matadors once again began to rebound in the second half of the set.

Despite trailing 20-14, CSUN came all the way back to tie it at 21-all on an Owens line shot from the left side. However, the Gauchos stayed focused and were able to keep it close before earning a match point at 24-23 when an Owens back row attack didn't clear the net. Though UCSB didn't convert on its first chance, Robinson finished off the game – her best single-game performance of her career with seven kills on seven errorless swings – with a kill off the one set to send it to the fourth. 

Neither team pulled ahead by much of a margin until late in the fourth set. On a controversial call, the Gauchos were called for a lift on a cover, giving CSUN its first multi-point lead of the set at 16-14. A few points later, a Gaucho attack error pushed CSUN's advantage to 19-16. Undeterred, Allen slammed down a monster kill then went to the service line and ripped a serve just over the tape for a game-tying ace. Jockeying for the lead, UCSB was able to create a pair of set points on kills from Omwanghe and Allen, respectively, but couldn't convert on either chance. CSUN clinched it on its first match point with an Owens kill, her fifth of the frame and team-high 20th of the match. 

UCSB will return to action tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m at the Walter Pyramid, taking on Long Beach State in an ESPN3-televised contest. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.