For the first time in over 38 years, there will be a new coach of the UCSB women’s volleyball team. In January, legendary coach Kathy Gregory announced her retirement as UCSB’s head coach. On February 6, it was announced that former Miami women’s volleyball head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch would be stepping in to begin a new era of volleyball in Santa Barbara.
“There were a lot of great candidates and we had to make a very difficult decision, but [Nicole] has proven that she is a winner and has worked very hard at different schools,” Gregory said. “She was at Texas A&M where she was a recruiter and she won and then went on to Miami, and everywhere she has gone she has proven that she can be successful.”
Lantagne Welch began her coaching career at her alma mater, the University of Maryland, in 1994 as an assistant coach. She moved onto Ohio State in 1995 and then to Texas A&M in 1997, where as an assistant she reached the NCAA tournament all three years she was there and made the elite eight in 1999.
In 2001 she became the head coach for Miami, where she took over the rebuilding process and restarted the volleyball program after 20 years without a team. In just her second season, Lantagne Welch led her squad to an NCAA Sweet 16 birth.
In 12 years with the Hurricanes, Lantagne Welch made five NCAA tournaments, one Sweet 16 birth and left with a .669 winning percentage, a record of 243-120. In her last season, she led her team to the NCAA tournament with a 25-6 record and 17 wins in Miami’s Atlantic Coat Conference. Her successful season earned her the ACC Coach of the year and the AVCA East Region Coach of the Year awards.
“It took a lot of hard work, there were a lot of great coaches that surrounded me over the years and a lot of great players,” Lantagne Welch said. “Recruiting is a huge part of success, getting the right student athlete to succeed in your system. We were known for running a very quick offense and being very athletic and those are some of the things I’m going to try and instill here at UCSB.”
While her talents as a leader and mentor will certainly be sorely missed in Miami, UCSB is happy to welcome her to the Gauchos for her coaching skills both on and off the court.
“I had a really great program at Miami where I was for the last 13 years and 12 seasons, and it was very special to me,” Lantagne Welch said. “There were actually only a couple jobs that I would have ever even considered or looked at and UCSB was one of them.”
In 2012, five of her players were named as All-East Region players, but equally as impressive and valued here at UCSB is the success of her student athletes in the classroom. During her time with the Hurricanes, she saw a 100 percent graduation rate and in 2012, her players compiled a team GPA of 3.14.
“She has a very good commitment to academics,” Gregory said. “She fits the mold of commitment to the school with high focus on academics and she is a proven hard worker, so it looks like, on paper, that this will be a great hire.”
For Lantagne Welch, coming back to So Cal was an easy choice. A native of Encinitas, California, Welch had family ties that piqued her interest in coming to Santa Barbara.
“This is actually a dream job of mine,” Lantagne Welch said. “My parents were both born and raised in Santa Barbara and my grandfather worked at the university for years, so I have a lot of family connections. I am very familiar with Santa Barbara and UCSB. Plus it’s a great school with a great location and it’s a hotbed state for volleyball. So it’s a no-brainer in terms of a program you can get known nationally and compete at the highest levels.”
Lantagne Welch takes over a Gauchos team that finished 16-17 last season with a 9-9 Big West Conference record. Though the season did not turn out as a great success, there were many bright spots for the team that should only be better with another year of experience.
“We just had our full spring season and we are allowed six weeks of full training and we got to compete in four scrimmages,” Lantagne Welch said. “It was a really great time for us to work together. I think if you ask the players and our coaches, you’d hear that we took steps in the right direction. We are improving and we’re working things out.”
This summer, the team will get together to begin play with a new coach and new system but in a familiar, yet still difficult, Big West Conference. The road will be trying for the Gauchos as they will have a tough schedule ahead of them with Hawaii, who were undefeated in the Big West last season, and the always competitive Long Beach State, who finished in second last season. However, Lantagne Welch remains confident in her team and their abilities moving forward.
“We talked to the team about it when we started. It’s more of a new era, a new direction and we are taking our own path now wherever that takes us,” Lantagne Welch said. “You worry about what you can control. We have a schedule in front of us and we are going to prepare the best we can. What we can control is how hard we work and things we can improve on and the rest will show on the court.”
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of May 16, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo Courtesy of UCSB Athletics.