Coming off one of its best years in recent memory, the UCSB women’s volleyball team will have six new faces on the roster when it begins its 2014 campaign in the fall.
The Gauchos will have big shoes to fill with the departures of two key seniors in outside hitter/libero Leah Sully and opposite Katey Thompson.
After playing a full season without a true libero in the starting lineup, Santa Barbara is looking to resolve those issues by adding three new liberos in incoming freshmen Sydney Bast, Kelly Bielaski and Jane Lamp.
At 5’ 6”, Bast has made a name for herself on the court as well as in the sand, winning the AAU Beach National Championship in 2011. After her senior season at St. Lucy’s Priory High School, Bast earned All-CIF honors and was named the San Gabriel Valley Tribune Player of the Year. With four league titles and two CIF Championships throughout high school, her history of winning is something that can surely help the Gauchos as they look to repeat as Big West champs.
“Sydney is a really consistent player and we noticed that she has the skills as both a passer and a defender,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said.
Coming into the team at 5’8”, Kelly Bielaski is the tallest of the three new liberos. During her time at Dougherty Valley High School, Bielaski set the school records for career kills, digs and aces on her way to earning two Offensive Player of the Year awards and being named MVP after her senior year.
“What really stood out from [Kelly] was her passing ability,” Lantagne Welch said. “She’s a really bright kid and I think that can translate well to the court.”
The last of the three liberos is Jane Lamp from Thousand Oaks High School. At just 5’3”, Lamp helped lead her team to three consecutive undefeated seasons in league play and was named the team’s Best Defensive Player in her junior year. In each of her last two high school seasons, Lamp was named to the All-Marmonte League First Team as well as the All-Ventura County team.
“Jane’s a go-getter. She’s not going to let her small stature get in her way,” Lantagne Welch said. “She’s a really energetic, fiery player and just brings a lot of energy to the court.”
Adding offensive firepower will be outside hitter Chanel Hoffman. Hoffman finished her high school career with a Riverside County record of 1,338 kills and earned numerous postseason awards including Div. II Player of the Year and All-CIF Player of the Year.
“Chanel is an all-around player and she’s going to have an opportunity to impact the game in both the front row and the back row,” Lantagne Welch said. “One of her strengths is her ability to do so many things well.”
Joining UCSB’s good young group of middle blockers and outside hitters is 6’3” Megan Sullivan. After leading the way in her senior year with an impressive .353 hitting percentage, she was named to the Delta River All-League team and the Sacramento Bee All-Metro team.
“Megan is a high-touching player,” Lantagne Welch said. “Just to get another good athlete in the program that’s playing a high level along the net is going to help our team tremendously.”
Rounding out the new recruits is setter/right-side hitter Noa Nightingale. A teammate of Sullivan’s in high school, Nightingale was listed in PrepVolleyball’s Players to Watch and Seniors Aces list as she went for 197 kills in her senior year without missing a start.
“Noa gives us a lot of depth and flexibility,” Lantagne Welch said. “She’s really going to have some different looks depending on how everyone shapes out in the positions and whatnot. She’s a really hard worker and we’re excited about her versatility.”
Last season, UCSB utilized numerous freshmen on its way to a Big West league title. These freshmen will have the same opportunity to make an immediate impact.
“We’re not afraid to play freshmen,” Lantagne Welch said. “Our freshmen have been great in this program in the past so whoever earns it and can help us win the most is going to be out there on the floor.”
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of May 7th’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.