The First Annual UCSB All-Interview Team has arrived at the Nexus.

Santa Barbara is home to some of the finest student-athletes in the country. The players who grace the field, the diamond, or the court all bring unique and important qualities to their respective teams. Many of the athletes are also blessed with the gift of articulation.

Reporters thrive on their favorite interview targets, staking them out after hard-fought battles, before dinner, or at the next most-inconvenient time. The interviewee makes the interview, and for the six Gauchos selected to this year’s inaugural team, they are some of the finest at relating their sport to clueless reporters.

The athletes selected for the team are freshman center J.J. Todd and sophomore point guard B.J. Ward for men’s basketball; junior second baseman Kim Sawyer for softball; freshman Eric Koch for swimming; junior Kayte Christensen for basketball; and Head Coach Paul Stumpf for women’s soccer.

These are the people involved in the sports programs that can reach reporters on a personal and analytical level to bring them to a more complete or reasonable understanding of the sports that they excel at in a Division I institution.

Todd is a redshirt freshman who made significant contributions off the bench for Head Coach Bob Williams’ club in the 2000-2001 season. Although he played in only 18 games and 120 minutes during the year, his presence was felt by his hustle for long rebounds and clogging the middle with a solid defense. Playing for the first time in over a year was a highlight of Todd’s season.

“It was nice just to be on the court. Spending a year off was good for development, but you get antsy sitting on the bench every game. After taking so much time off, it was nice to brush off the cobwebs and get back on the court for a change,” Todd said.

Todd also has the blessing of playing with two formidable senior forwards next season: Adama Ndiaye and Mike Vukovich.

“If I can compete against them [in practice], when I get the chance to play during the year I’ll go out and hold my own for the minutes I’m playing,” Todd said.

Ward is Todd’s help from the outside; Ward started the season at point guard, but shared crucial minutes with freshman Jacoby Atako as the season wore on. Ward was largely responsible for getting the Gauchos their first win of the season when he scored 15 points and hit the game-tying, buzzer-beating three to tie the game against Westmont. UCSB ended up winning the game after four consecutive defeats.

Despite sharing the duties with Atako, Ward is more than happy to be a part of a successful backcourt.

“When I was playing, I think we were 2-5. You have to make changes if things aren’t going right. We weren’t winning and that’s what it boils down to … For us, we need to be more consistent and dependable for the team [to succeed],” Ward said. “It’s good to have two equal point guards instead of one real strong point guard and a sorry backup. We can always go in for each other. We both contribute equal minutes.”

Sawyer was a co-captain of a squad that had trouble getting off the ground running, leading a gritty group of players with a .378 slugging percentage and three home runs. Sawyer, apart from her All-Interview selection, is making her voice heard about UCSB falling behind other conference schools in terms of facilities, including locker rooms.

“[The UCSB softball team] legally wants to be equal with other schools in the Big West, in terms of facilities. It’s still fun to go away – depending where we’re going. Road trips are fun, and [Cal State] Fullerton especially has an amazing facility,” Sawyer said.

Freshman distance swimmer Eric Koch had a strong year on a team that won the Big West crown for the 23rd straight year with Head Coach Gregg Wilson. Koch also enjoys competing with the most-successful team on campus.

“I won the mile and the thousand in the Big West Tournament. Our conference championship was cool to win; it seems like every year a freshman wins an event … the team is great; it’s the biggest family on campus,” Koch said.

Christensen and Stumpf round out the team. Christensen led the women’s basketball team with 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season and a won a Big West Conference crown. Her 55 shooting percentage was also tops on the team; Christensen is expected to be a leading candidate for Big West Player of Year next season.

Women’s soccer Head Coach Stumpf guides one of the toughest and most-entertaining teams on campus, leading the Gauchos to within a whisker of a league title, winning three of the last four games to force a deciding game with Cal Poly, an intense 1-0 loss. Stumpf has begun to help lay the foundation for a successful program with solid coaching and recruiting.

“We have seven true recruits who have decided to come. Three are very solid players who can help us immediately. The other four have some characteristics, [including] their game and personality that’s worth our time and effort,” he said. “The four … are projects with a lot of tools. Two of the three [top recruits] are strikers. One’s a deep-target striker, the other is a left-sided player. The two girls scored over 100 goals in high school … we’re hoping that translates into some goals for us.”