Two freshmen have impressed immediately for the UCSB women’s volleyball team, contributing in a big way. Starting libero Kelly Heenan and outside hitter Kara Sherrard have both been crucial for Santa Barbara (10-8 overall, 4-1 Big West) in its early season success.

[media-credit name=”Daniel Wade” align=”alignleft” width=”142″][/media-credit]“We have been blessed with some great freshmen that have been able to come in and contribute right away,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “[Freshman opposite] Katey Thompson has also started and played well.”

Heenan, when recruited by Gregory, was told that she would be given an opportunity to compete for the starting libero position. Since winning the starting gig, Heenan has run with it and not looked back.

“We would not be where we are without Kelly,” Gregory said. “She brings a great mental focus and steady play to our team, and that is what you need from your libero.”

Heenan has played in all 82 sets this season and currently leads the team with 172 digs. The next closest is senior outside hitter Charlene DeHoog with 139. Additionally, Heenan is third on the team with 16 assists.

“Kelly just has this cool confidence to her when she plays,” senior setter Dana Vargas said. “What makes her so special is that she doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Coach says she has a good volleyball I.Q.”

From the first time she set foot on campus, Heenan has felt right at home in Santa Barbara – on and off the court.

“I love it here,” Heenan said. “Everyone on the team has been really great and it’s been awesome to make an immediate impact.”

Success is nothing new for the 5’8” defensive specialist from Costa Mesa. Heenan’s list of high school accolades is not a short one; as a senior at Newport Harbor High School she led her team to a state championship while receiving First team All-Orange County honors and was named a Top-250 preseason All-American.

“I know how much hard work needs to be put in to be the best,” Heenan said. “The work ethic on this team is unbelievable.”

Freshman outside hitter Kara Sherrard has a bit of a different story of her road to the starting outside hitter position. Asked to walk onto the team last year, Sherrard’s chances of starting were bleak.

“Kara was obviously someone I wanted on the team, but [I] did not expect her to start for us,” Gregory said. “Over summer, she started to get stronger and stronger and to really commit herself to improving.”

In Santa Barbara’s first match of the season on the road against UC Berkeley, sophomore outside hitter Leah Sully tore her ACL, leaving Sherrard as her replacement.

“It’s always extremely unfortunate when a player is injured, but sometimes when one door closes, another one opens,” Gregory said. “Kara has been great for us.”

The freshman entered her game and made an immediate impact, blocking a kill attempt on her first play.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Sherrard said. “I just wanted to come in and play consistently for the team.”

The 6’0” outside hitter has started every match since then. She ranks 2nd on the team with 340 total attacks her 95 kills are good for 3rd. Sherrard is also 4th on the team with 11 assists and is tied for 3rd with seven service aces.

“Kara has come in and really stepped up to the plate,” Vargas said. “Her role is to be steady and defend, and she has stepped up to the plate when her number has been called.”

Sherrard’s toughness may be her most impressive attribute. In a tournament game at the USD Invitational against Minnesota, Sherrard suffered a sprained ankle. Carried off the court, it seemed as if she would not return. However, Gregory put her back into the game in the second half.

“I really feel like part of the team,” Sherrard said. “It raises my confidence level knowing that Coach has that much confidence in me.”

Hailing from Lancaster, Sherrard led Quartz Hill High School to consecutive undefeated Golden League seasons. As a senior, she was named the Golden League Player of the Year, and earned First team All-CIF Southern Section honors.

“The biggest thing [about Heenan and Sherrard] is that they believe in themselves and they know our coaches believe in them,” Gregory said.

The pair of freshman has been doing its best work as of late. In Santa Barbara’s last three games — all wins — both Hennan and Sherrard have been fantastic. In the Gauchos’ 3-2 win over SDSU at the USD Invitational, Heenan set a season-high with 26 digs.

“My success is really a product of the team’s,” Heenan said. “It’s good to know that all of the players are out there to support one another and lift each other up.”

The Gauchos opened up league play emphatically at the end of August, posting two straight road wins over Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine, before beating Long Beach State to begin Big West play 3-0.

As has been the case all season, both Heenan and Sherrard impressed. In Santa Barbara’s win over Northridge, Heenan collected a team-high 19 digs, while Sherrard delivered 11 kills to lead UCSB to the hard-fought victory, 3-2.

Against Irvine, the story was the same. Heenan led Santa Barbara with 16 digs, while Sherrard collected a double-double with 11 kills and 13 digs to help the Gauchos shut out the Anteaters 3-0.

In Santa Barbara’s comeback win over Long Beach State, Heenan recorded a team-high 21 digs, while Sherrard posted another double-double with 15 kills and 10 digs.

“This season has been a little bit surreal so far,” Sherrard said. “I wasn’t expecting to be playing at all this season, so it’s awesome to be helping the team out at all.”

In the team’s latest victory, the freshman duo stepped up for the Gauchos once again. Sherrard had 16 kills and 14 blocks and Heenan tied for a team-high with 14 digs to lead to Gauchos to victory over Cal Poly.

Santa Barbara is now 10-8 overall and 4-1 in Big West league play. UCSB will take to the court next this weekend when it faces Pacific and UC Davis on the road. As vital members of the squad, both Heenan and Sherrard will have to perform if the Gauchos are to continue their early season success.

“Both of these girls are fantastic players,” Gregory said. “They have been great for us and I only expect them to get better.”

Heenan, Sherrard and the rest of the squad will face Big West foe Pacific in Stockton on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.