With a new coach and a new system, there have been a lot of firsts for the UCSB women’s volleyball team this season. This weekend, the Gauchos will be looking for another first as they try to win their first Big West game.

Off to a 5-7 start in nonconference games, the Gauchos open up Big West play this weekend at home against rival Long Beach State and UC Irvine.

“We’re really excited to be able to play in front of our home crowd,” senior outside hitter Kara Sherrard said. “We had a lot of good momentum at a really big tournament last weekend, so we’re excited to try and bring that momentum into this weekend.”

UCSB begins their two-weekend homestand against two teams that have begun the season with solid starts. Long Beach State has started 7-6, while the Anteaters are sitting comfortably above .500 at 9-5.

While a 5-7 start is not necessarily a dream for the Gauchos, they are hoping their preseason tune-up games and weekly practices will help them get off to a strong start in the Big West.

“This entire week has just been focused on game time situations and how to finish big points,” Sherrard said. “That’s something that we were trying to focus on in the preseason tournaments. We know Long Beach pretty well.”

The Gauchos have had a lot of changes since the end of last season, first with the departure of long-time head coach Kathy Gregory and next with the introduction of six new freshmen to the team.

Replacing Gregory is new head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch, who is coming off a very successful stint at the University of Miami.

Besides the drastic change at head coach, there have been big changes all over the roster. Most notable of these changes is the departure of last year’s standout freshman libero Taylor Formico, who broke the school and Big West record for digs.

“[Formico] did leave a pretty big hole,” Sherrard said. “We realized it was a big change, but we all just came together and figured out a way to get past [losing her].”

The team also brought in six new freshmen, a couple of which have already made a positive impact on the court. Freshmen middle blockers Phoebe Grunt and Allie Sullberg lead the team in blocks with 37 and 32, respectively.

Offensively, freshman outside hitter Ali Spindt has really hit stride early in the season, and is tied for the second most kills on the team with 102.

“[Spindt] has already made a really big impact,” Sherrard said. “She’s one of our go-to [players] when it comes to kills.”

Sophomore setter Hanna Nielson, who was the Gauchos’ starting setter last season, has gotten off to a good start with 316 assists after just 12 games.

UCSB plays Long Beach State in the Thunderdome at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, and UC Irvine at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday.


A version of this article appeared on page 8 of September 26, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Magali Gauthier of The Daily Nexus.