Like many others, Gaucho freshman outside hitter Janine Sandell appreciates the outstanding weather and natural beauty of Santa Barbara, and that, among many other things, is what attracted her to UCSB. Like few others though, Sandell had her sights set on other schools before becoming a Gaucho even entered her mind and was a last-minute pickup from Deer Valley High School in Phoenix, Ariz.

“We thought we were through with recruiting, but then we realized that we needed another outside hitter,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory recalled. “We were very surprised to see that an athlete of her caliber was still available.”

Sandell was a three-sport star in high school and won two state championships in discus and shotput, while playing basketball and club volleyball. Her balancing act compromised her time on the high school volleyball team, and as a result, she did not get much exposure as recruiting season came down to the wire.

“When it came time to sign, all of the other girls had had a chance to see their schools and make their picks, so a lot of places were taken,” Sandell said. “A month before the signing period was over, Santa Barbara starting talking to me. I came on a visit, loved it, and was left with two weeks to decide.”

When she came on that visit, however, she had other places on her mind.

“Janine’s visit was interesting because all she talked about was how much she liked Baylor,” Gregory said. “We didn’t call her because we wanted to see if she was really interested in coming to UCSB.”

Coach Gregory ended up getting the call, and Gaucho women’s volleyball has been thankful ever since. Sandell established herself as a powerful attacker early in the season, wasting no time with a breakout 13-kill performance against Arizona on Sept. 12. Since that match she’s been a starter, averaging 2.41 kills per game. Sandell is third on the team in kills behind senior outside hitter Erica Menzel and sophomore middle blocker Megan Blackshire.

“I did well against Arizona because it was like I wasn’t thinking,” Sandell said. “There were no expectations, and I was just having fun out there.”

Sandell has had some fun, all right. She has burst onto the Division I women’s volleyball scene with seven double-digit kill matches and is making a strong case for Big West All-Freshman Team honors. She complemented Blackshire’s consistency Saturday night against UCR with another 13 kills and a .480 attacking percentage.

“I’m very hard on myself, but volleyball is about fun,” Sandell said. “When we actually do have fun, that just makes it that much better.”

Sandell’s size and past training in the weight events of track and field have definitely helped her attain her vicious swing on the ball, and her approach is all the more intimidating to those on the other side of the net.

“I’m a big girl, and I get a lot of oomph behind the ball,” Sandell said. “I just get mad and pretend that the ball is something that I’m mad at.”

Other facets of Sandell are easy to lose behind the physical talent she possesses, but they are not lost on her teammates or coaches.

“She’s a total team player, very unselfish,” Gregory praised. “The inside of her is a very sensitive and caring person. She’s aware of other peoples’ feelings.”

She also doesn’t let her natural skill at volleyball go to her head, or go to waste, either. She is one of nine freshmen on the team who are there to learn and improve.

“She loves asking questions, so I’m happy to help,” Menzel said.