At the end of last season, the UCSB women’s volleyball team lost two incredible players and All-Americans in Chelsey Lowe and Stacey Schmidt. With only one senior on the squad this season and just five upperclassmen total, the Gauchos have needed the seven freshmen to step up. Two, specifically, have answered the call: libero Taylor Formico and middle blocker Britton Taylor.

“I don’t think we would be where we are without these two girls,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “As I recruited them, I knew that they would start. It wasn’t a question; I knew they would and I told them both.”

Formico has played all 22 of the Gauchos’ games as well as all 87 sets. She currently holds and continues to set the UCSB freshman dig record each game. She leads the Big West conference with 488 digs, 103 more than her closest competitor and averages 5.61 digs per set. The 488 digs also put her at No. 10 in the record books for most digs in a single season. With 11 games to go, she is on pace to break Lowe’s record of 652, which was set just last season.

“Taylor Formico has been playing libero and has great stats,” Gregory said. “She is living up to expectation and is maybe even on a better path. She has come in and replaced an All-American libero in Chelsey Lowe.”

Out of Mountain View, California, Formico was recruited by UCSB to start right away, but at an unfamiliar position. She had only ever been a setter before coming to play for Santa Barbara.

“The most difficult transition playing in college has been playing libero,” Formico said. “This is my first year playing there, so I was not really familiar with the position. I had set my whole life so that was a big difference. Chelsey was a great libero last year and I knew that was a huge hole to fill, so I came early this summer to do my best to fill the hole.”

Even with the transition to a new position, Formico knew that Santa Barbara was the right place for her. She was recruited by Gregory and was told by her former coach that she would be in good hands here.

“My club coach was close to Kathy and told me that she was a great coach and it would be a great fit for me,” Formico said. “So I met with her and she was so passionate for the team and for coaching and I realized I would get the most here at UCSB, both for volleyball and academically.”

Another freshman making a major impact for the Gauchos is Britton Taylor. The 6’3” freshman from Newport Beach, California had a friend in Santa Barbara before she decided this was where she wanted to be.

“I knew Katey Thompson because we are both from Newport Beach and were on rival teams in high school and played for the same club,” Taylor said. “So it was nice knowing her and having someone welcome me in.”

Taylor jumped right into the starting lineup as well. She has missed only nine sets for Santa Barbara all season. She leads the team with a hitting percentage of .251, which also puts her in the top ten in the Big West at No. 9. Her 173 kills are good for third on the team behind junior outside hitter Leah Sully and junior opposite Katey Thompson and with a push for more opportunities by her coach, she will see more chances to put the ball away moving forward.

“It’s really exciting to be playing as much as I am and making the impact that I am,” Taylor said. “I just try to work hard and give them my best all the time to help the team out in any way possible.”

Taylor has been key player for the Gauchos this season. Her presence on the court draws the attention of defenses, which frees other players to score. She also makes opposing teams pay when she is no longer their focus, leading to her team-best hitting percentage.

“Her strongest qualities are that she has a great arm swing and she hits behind,” Gregory said. “But even more, it’s that she is easy to coach and really has maturity beyond her years as a freshman.”

While both are key components on the team, Formico and Taylor have become fast friends off the court too. As freshmen in college, there is a leaning curve that all students must go through, but arguably even more so when student athletes. Learning to play the faster-paced game and how to be successful students brings the two together.

“With all the freshmen, I really liked it in the beginning because I didn’t feel like the only newcomer,” Formico said. “I’m probably closest with Britton on the team. She’s a hard worker, a super nice girl, really competitive and easy to talk to.”

Off the court, the two girls are very friendly and get along great with their teammates. Gregory chose Taylor to write the blog for the Gaucho athletics website called “Britton’s Bulletin,” where Taylor gives insight to the day-to-day life of being a part of the team. Formico brings a lot of energy to the locker room and is very vocal which keeps the team loose and fired up.

“Britton is really personable and honest and has a nice nature; everyone just really likes her,” Gregory said. “Taylor Formico is wilder and [has] high energy; they’re like … opposites, yet they compliment each other.”

The camaraderie amongst these two makes them centerpieces of the close-knit team and a center to build around for years to come for UCSB. All but one player next year is eligible to return, making this a very competitive team beyond just this season.