As with any other sport, this year’s off-season has been extremely eventful for the UCSB women’s volleyball team. By the end of February, the entire UCSB roster was in a state of instability with the departures of three key players and the replacement of two assistant coaches.

“Earlier this year, I told a couple of my players to leave and others, in turn, asked for their releases,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “I do believe that in the long run this will be good for our team. Last year we were successful in wins, but our team chemistry and togetherness just wasn’t there. … I was a little disappointed with some of the transfers. We’ll still be able to compete at a high level with our returners and we have a lot more focus and unselfishness that we didn’t have last year.”

Junior outside hitter Janine Sandell is currently playing at the University of Washington, while three other players were released in February. Freshman outside hitter Jaimarie Sutherland will begin her sophomore year at University of San Diego, sophomore setter Ashley Dutro will begin the 2006 season with Loyola Marymount and sophomore middle blocker Bethany Johansen will join USC next year.

Sandell declined to state specifically why she left the team, but attributed her release to personal reasons.

“I really wanted to see what it was like to play and compete in the Pac-10,” Sandell said. “It was like a domino effect. Bethany was the first to go and then I asked for my release.”

After being released, Sandell chose to transfer to Washington, the defending National Champions. With the transfer, Sandell goes from being the dominant outside hitter in the Big West to competing for a starting role with the Huskies.

“Going into all this I didn’t know who was going to ask for me, especially because I couldn’t talk to other schools before my release,” Sandell said. “Washington was quite a surprise and I’m really happy and lucky to be able to play with them.”

Sandell, who appeared in 109 sets for UCSB, Dutro and current Gaucho junior libero Emily Hendrickson anchored the team last season. Sandell led Santa Barbara in almost every offensive category, amassing 572 total kills, an average of 5.25 kills per game, which placed her fourth on the UCSB all-time single-season list and eighth in the nation in 2005. In three years with the Gauchos, she put away 1,251 career kills, ranking 10th on the all-time list.

Rounding out her best offensive season at UCSB, Sandell posted double-figure kills in all 30 conference matches, recorded 16 double-doubles on the season, and averaged 3.51 digs per game.

Sandell said that she misses the team and wishes them the best of luck in the upcoming year.

“I know the team’s moving on, but it’s crazy,” Sandell said. “It’s surreal to think that this actually happened, that I’m really in Washington for my last year.”

Dutro led Santa Barbara as the starting setter with 1,308 assists, averaging 12 per game – good for fourth in the Big West last year. In 98 games, Johansen recorded 137 kills for UCSB and finished with a team-high .375 season hitting clip. Sutherland appeared in just 12 games last season.

Despite losing several of their top returners, the Gauchos are still optimistic about the 2006 season. Gregory thinks the changes will only improve team unity and is expecting new players and role players from last year to fill the holes left by Sandell, Dutro, Johansen and Sutherland.

“There’s always going to be disappointment when someone leaves the team,” Gregory said. “We went through a bit of turmoil but my philosophy is that through adversity we’ll find a way to handle our situation and move forward. I’ve been coaching for 31 years and this has never happened before. But we’re moving forward and our chemistry is much better.”

Gregory is still moving her program forward. After the acquisition of two new assistant coaches, Matt Sonnichsen – ex-head coach at University of Tulsa – and Greg Gibbons, former head coach at Cal Lutheran, UCSB has had successful appearances in three spring tournaments. At UC Irvine’s tournament last weekend, the Gauchos swept both Riverside and Irvine and split games with Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. UCSB will wrap up spring play May 13 at Cal Poly.

“We’re on the right track and we have additional recruits for the upcoming season,” Gregory said. “We have two great new coaches this year and the girls really like them.”

In 2006, UCSB will pack a full roster with 16 players – including three recruits out of high school, additional walk-ons and at least 10 returners from the 2005 season.

“We’ve all moved forward and I really think we’ll be a better team,” Gregory said. “To tell the truth, I have no hard feelings towards anyone. I wish them all the best of luck and I’m not bitter about this outcome.”