Last season was a disappointing one for the UCSB women’s volleyball team. After being picked No. 4 in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Gauchos ended up finishing tied for fifth in the Big West with a conference record of 9-9 and an overall 16-17 record.
Luckily for UCSB, this will be a completely new season with a very different looking team.
This year marks a new beginning for UCSB volleyball as for the first time in 38 seasons Kathy Gregory will not be the team’s head coach. The legendary Gaucho coach, who holds the school record for winning percentage (.681) and won the AVCA National Coach of the Year award in 1993, retired after last season.
Taking Gregory’s place at the helm is Nicole Lantagne Welch, who is coming off a 25-6 season and a trip to the NCAA tournament at the University of Miami last season. During her time at Miami, Welch compiled a 243-120 record, giving her an impressive .669 winning percentage.
The Gauchos come into this season as the No. 6 team in the Big West, as voted by the coaches. The biggest roster change for them will be in the middle, as standout libero Taylor Formico will not be returning to the team.
As a freshman last season, Formico broke the school record for digs on her way to being named the Big West Freshman of the Year and earning a First Team All-Big West selection.
UCSB’s only other departure in the offseason was another libero in graduated senior Erica Lau. Filling in at the defensive specialist position will be sophomore Shauna Klein, backed by a couple of newcomers in freshmen Ella Roberts and Helen Gannon.
UCSB is looking strong on the wings with opposite Katey Thompson and outside hitters Leah Sully and Kara Sherrard all entering their senior years. Sully and Thompson were named to the First and Second Team Honorable Mention All-Big West last season, respectively. Despite having only three seniors on the team, the Gauchos will have plenty of solid veteran leadership.
The remaining four incoming freshmen include outside hitter Ali Spindt and middle blockers Phoebe Grunt, Allie Sullberg and Kristen Berlo. Berlo, a double athlete who is also on the UCSB softball team, should be an exciting prospect to watch next season as she and the other freshmen compete for playing time.
At setter, the Gauchos will welcome the return of junior Ali Santi, who led the team with 8.28 assists per game in 2012. Sophomores Jaylen Villanueva and Hanna Nielson will back Santi up as the only other setters on the team.
Rounding out the roster are two liberos in Klein and junior Keely Stevenson, and three middle blockers in sophomores Britton Taylor and Elizabeth “ZZ” Meddaugh and junior Jordan Pehanick.
UCSB may have been predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big West this year, but with a number of fresh new faces on the team and a strong core of upperclassmen, the team could very well make some noise in the conference.
The Gauchos open their season this Friday against volleyball powerhouse Stanford. The game will be played at noon at the Thunderdome.

This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Kenneth Song of The Daily Nexus.