After losing seniors Kristin Nelson and Mari Bell to graduation last year, UCSB women’s volleyball Head Coach Kathy Gregory found what she was looking for in 5-foot-11 freshman outside-hitter, Lauren McLaughlin from Torrance, Calif.
“Lauren is the style of player I like to recruit,” Gregory said. “She is an all-around player. She can pass well, she plays sound defense and has a great serve…. She makes smart decisions and, together with [junior outside hitter] Janine [Sandell], is a big part of our success in outside hitting positions.”
Gregory said she had been watching McLaughlin since the beginning of her junior year at South Torrance High School. Her uncles, Jim and Rick McLaughlin, helped sell her to UCSB as well.
Jim McLaughlin, a former Gaucho volleyball star, was one of the top setters during his stint in Santa Barbara. He now coaches #1 Washington, so Gregory said she seriously began to look into this prospect.
But as a freshman, it didn’t take much for McLaughlin to begin dominating. Halfway through the season, with 61 games under her belt, Lauren has already amassed 147 kills, third only behind Sandell’s 398 and senior middle blocker Megan Blackshire’s 171 put-aways.
McLaughlin is hitting .126 on the season and averages 2.41 kills per game, which is second only to Sandell’s 5.71 kills per game. Thus far, she’s posted four double-doubles, the best of which came against Northridge on Oct. 14, with 20 kills and 18 digs on the night. Compare this to Sandell, the powerhouse on the team who started her first match halfway through her first season as a Gaucho, and did not record her first double-double until her sophomore year.
To put things in perspective, Sandell, in 77 games this year, has recorded 398 kills, with a .197 season hitting clip, 240 digs and 10 blocks.
“She definitely has stepped up this year,” Sandell said. “I like how she’s always here to compete… and she never seems scared and is always taking big swings. But what I like most about her is how she always tries her best all the time.”
McLaughlin started each of her four years with the South Torrance varsity squad. In 2005, she was named one of PrepVolleyball.com’s top-250 senior aces and was also named first-team All-CIF Division II.
In her final year with the Spartans, McLaughlin racked up 323 kills, 253 digs, 99 blocks and 21 aces, and led her squad to win the CIF title in the semifinals.
“We’ve learned a lot from her this year,” Gregory said. “We hope she’s only going to get better and more competitive next year, and I’m looking for her to be one of our leaders…. To have a freshman giving us this much is a huge plus.”
The first indication of McLaughlin’s potential came in early September, against Missouri, when McLaughlin came in the game to hit .500 with two digs, enough for the coaches to see what she had.
“She wasn’t ready to play Missouri and Rick wanted to redshirt her,” Gregory said. “I told him we were going to lose the match and, after putting her in, we came back to win it in five. I think it was a very smart decision.”
It was not until playing St. Mary’s in the Santa Clara tournament Sept. 16 did McLaughlin show promise of being a key offensive player for UCSB, when she came in as a reserve to record three kills and four digs.
The next day, McLaughlin started against Stanford and recorded her first of four double-doubles this year, with 10 kills, 19 digs and a .143 hitting clip. Since that night, she has started in every match.
“She’s got a lot of potential and the sky’s the limit for her,” Sandell said. “It’s shocking because she’s doing all this as a freshman. Goodness knows how good she’s going to get in the future.”