With new Head Coach Nicole Latagne Welch at the helm, the UCSB women’s volleyball team is set to begin a new era.

After the departure of just one senior, defensive specialist Erica Lau, there is not much room for newcomers.

“We have a big group of returners which will give us a lot of experience going into next season,” Latagne Welch said. “That is something that is going to be helpful, but we came in here and told everyone they will have to work for their job. The coach’s perspective is that you’re always trying to get people that are better than what you have, so they need to embrace that and use that as motivation to get better and become as strong as possible and earn a spot on the court.”

However, there is always room for improvement, and with the arrival of three standouts for next season, the Gauchos will look to improve on their fifth-place finish this season. Former Head Coach Kathy Gregory led her team in her final year to a 16-17 season and finished tied for fifth place with Cal State Fullerton with a 9-9 Big West Conference record.

“I left with some really good recruits and they have a chance to make an impact for the next year,” Gregory said. “They are freshmen and there is a lot of pressure put on freshmen to have to start and I think the biggest thing will be that hopefully the chemistry of the team will be good with the freshmen in there.”

Before announcing her retirement, Gregory brought on board three recruits who have a chance of making a real impact next season. Future freshmen Kristen Berlo, Phoebe Grunt and Ali Spindt will all be given a real chance to see some significant playing time next season.

“These three, Berlo, Spindt and Grunt, are all going to have a good shot at competing for playing time as freshmen,” Latagne Welch said. “Grunt’s a middle and will compete for a spot there, Spindt is an outside right side six-rotation type player and Berlo is a sort of middle outside.”

Berlo does not have to travel far to become a UCSB student. The Santa Barbara native is a 6’1” middle blocker who played at San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara Volleyball Club. A two-sport athlete, Berlo is expected to play both softball and volleyball at UCSB next year. She is expected to compete for spots around the front row and could see some time on the outside as well.

In volleyball last season, Berlo played for a 20-12 San Marcos team in 41 of her team’s sets and managed a .492 hitting percentage. She posted 160 kills with 32 blocks and 29 digs in her final year.

“Berlo is going to play both softball and volleyball,” Gregory said. “She has had some medical issues that will be the determining factor if she can play both sports, but it will be interesting to see how she develops playing both sports.”

Spindt hails from Menlo Park, California and plays for both Menlo Atherton High School and Encore Volleyball club. The 6’1” outside hitter is expected to play somewhere on the outside, perhaps from day one. Her talents have earned her San Mateo County Player of the Year as well as a nomination for Under Armor Player of the Year.

Spindt played in 52 sets last season and recorded 127 kills with 217 digs as she helped her team to a 28-8 record and a perfect 14-0 in league play.

“They have a chance to completely start Ali Spindt,” Gregory said. “The right side is probably the most physical and I think she has a really good chance to play on the right side and compete. She could on the left too she is one of the top recruits.”

Grunt comes to the Gauchos from Alameda, California where she played for St. Joseph’s Notre Dame High School. She is also a member of Encore Volleyball club.

“Their club teams are doing really well and that shows they are getting to play at that high club level,” Latagne Welch said. “Right now that will get them ready for college and get ready for that adjustment.”

Grunt is a 6’4” middle blocker whose height will surely make a welcome addition to the front line of the Gauchos. Grunt was named MVP of her high school team for three straight years and was labeled a “Star Athlete” by Bay Area News Group.

In her senior year, Grunt helped lead her team to a 27-12 record with a .479 hitting percentage, 414 kills and 137 blocks in her 105 sets played. Grunt also posted an impressive 89 serving aces.

“I really like our ’13 class,” Latagne Welch said. “They are great athletes, great volleyball players and just great people. They bring a lot and we are … really excited because they are going to challenge right from the start.”


A version of this article appeared on page 6 of May 22nd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Photo by Magali Gauthier of the Daily Nexus.