For the past few seasons, there has been one name associated with the UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball program: Lindsey Ruddins.
Totaling nearly 1,800 career kills, Ruddins has been the key cog in a Gauchos offense that for a long relied on her for their victories.
This year, however, that has changed. The UCSB women’s volleyball team is 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big West, but it is not only because of Ruddins.
In fact, a huge part of the Gauchos’ success is the person opposite of her on the court, Tallulah Froley.
This season, the redshirt freshman is second on the team in kills with 159.
Just this past week, Froley earned her second Big West Freshman of the Week award after helping UCSB wins its 12th and 13th straight match with a total of 24 kills in those wins.
“It’s really fun, I am having a great time. This is the most exciting volleyball I have ever played and I just want to keep going and keep getting better,” Froley said.
Froley’s powerful hitting opposite of a star in Ruddins has given defenses a lot to be worried about.
“One of the biggest things we said a year ago is we need an efficient right-side attack to go to the next level as a team and that is what she has provided for us,” coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
Still, the journey to becoming UCSB’s best No. 2 option in recent memory has not been easy for Froley.
At age 11, Froley picked up the sport that she would ultimately fall in love with: volleyball.
“My dad was coaching my sister’s team and I just wanted to do everything she did so I needed to play,” Froley said.
“It came easier to me because I wanted to be like my sister. She was older and taller so I would spend all my time being with her and my dad so I just picked up on things.”
By the time Froley got to play at the high school level, she was fantastic. In her four years at San Francisco Waldorf, she earned MVP honors of her league twice and led her school to four conference titles and two CIF championships.
Even as a freshman, Froley had received interest from many colleges about continuing her career. It was an exciting time.
Things got even more exciting when at the end of her freshman year she got a call from UCSB.
Despite living in Northern California her whole life, Froley has always had ties to the Santa Barbara community.
Her father is a UCSB grad and she also has a lot of family in the area. Because of that, Froley spent a lot of time in Santa Barbara as a kid, so to get that call was a dream come true.
“The moment I started talking to them (UCSB) I kind of forgot about the other schools,” Froley said.
“I committed by the end of my sophomore year.”
Froley had high hopes to make an immediate impact on a UCSB team that had only won eight games in 2017, the year before she arrived.
She made appearances in her first five games, totaling 11 kills in 13 sets.
“It was terrifying. I mean it was fun but everything is different. The lights, the people, it is stressful. But after the first couple of games, I started to get into a rhythm,” Froley said.
Against Sacramento State, she had three kills, giving her confidence as her team was getting prepared to return to Santa Barbara and play their first games at home.
Unfortunately for Froley, just days before what would have been her first home game, she injured her ankle.
When she fell, Froley hoped it would not be too serious. But minutes later, she knew it was much more significant than any of her previous ankle injuries.
The left-ankle sprain sidelined her for the rest of the season and just like that one year of her collegiate career was gone.
“I was bummed. I had ankle injuries before, it comes with the sport, but I was frustrated,” Froley said.
“I was able to start and play in a couple of games and now I just got taken back a couple of steps.”
Suddenly, Froley could not focus on her play, she had to focus on getting her ankle back to 100 percent.
“It was tough. I didn’t have to come to practice 15 minutes earlier to put on my gear I would just sit down in silence watching my teammates. It never felt like I was really there,” Froley said.
Injuries are a part of sports — they can be unfair and they can happen at any moment.
What separates good athletes from great ones is how they respond.
“It is always a mental challenge to be out. But one thing that the best players do is they could learn a different part of the game from sitting afar and see the game in a different light,” Lantagne Welch said.
At a university like UCSB, known for its party antics, it might be hard for some players to fight the distractions that come with attending that school, but not for Froley.
“If you are not playing on the court you can’t have fun off of it. In my mind, I wanted to keep the respect of my team and just heal as fast as possible so it was not hard for me to focus on schoolwork and my rehab,” Froley said.
Instead of falling into a dark place, Froley said she always tried to remain positive and kept her focus on the little things she could do to get better each day,
“It doesn’t take a lot for me to get excited about stuff. So when I went through rehab, I really focused on the little things I could do more and more each day and that kept me in a good headspace,” Froley said.
During games, Froley said she tried to be the loudest one on the bench, cheering on her team as they made their first postseason appearance since 2013.
“I could never just sit there, that is not who I am,” Froley said.
Froley’s patience and positive attitude eventually paid off. By late winter and early spring, she was cleared to participate in practices.
Though she was scared, Froley did what she always does on the court: attacked.
By the middle of spring, she was back and more confident than ever.
“Coming back through the spring she had some rough times, moments of frustration and error-filled days, but that is what she has worked on. Not worrying about one error but to play with confidence,” Lantagne Welch said.
Now, Froley is not thankful for the injury, but she is aware of how much she got to learn because of it.
“Looking back at it, the injury gave me a chance to get accustomed to collegiate life a little more and take my steps a little slower. I was able to fine-tune a lot of smaller details in my game and it really paid off,” Froley said.
Froley shares a lot of similarities with Ruddins on the court, with a powerful strike and all, but another thing they have in common is the fact they both could not play their freshman year due to injury.
During her injuries, Ruddins always focused on getting better any way she could, and now Froley is following in her footsteps.
“It’s amazing to watch what she can do. Freshman year I learned a lot from here. She is a really smart player so it’s cool to see someone so powerful yet smart to not just swing at every ball,” Froley said.
Returning has not been all positive for Froley. She has had some less-than-memorable games.
But the difference now is how confident she is, no matter what happened in the last game or even the last play.
“It really is just the mindset of just doing it. In the past, I have gotten in little ruts like where I can’t get the ball over the net and I just start worrying about it and it goes downhill from there so recently I have let things go and just keep playing,” Froley said.
Without a doubt, however, Froley is playing her best volleyball right now. In her last seven matches, Froley has tied her career-high in kills, tallying 15 four different times.
“I hoped it would be like this,” Froley said.
As UCSB welcomes its two toughest opponents to the Thunderdome over the next two weeks, Froley is confident not only in herself but in her team that they can continue this win streak.
It starts when the Gauchos host the No. 19 Hawaii at 7 p.m. tonight.
Hawai’i has only lost seven times to UCSB in 46 total meetings.
But this isn’t the same UCSB team as in years past.
They don’t only have just one great player, they have a slew of competitive athletes leading the charge and their goal goes beyond just winning the conference.
“Beating Hawaii and Cal Poly is our goal these next weeks, no doubt, but a chance to play for a National Championships is what drives us and it would be insane to be able to make it to the NCAA’s,” Froley said.
“But there is still work to be done.”