Charlie Robinson swings at a quick set. Sicheng Wang/Daily Nexus

Fall is here and the women’s volleyball season is back and ready to go. This will be the seventh season for Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch as she hopes to guide this very promising squad to success in the upcoming 2018 season.

There are many reasons to be excited about this year’s team, such as the many returning contributors from 2017 as well as the youth and potential of a very talented recruiting class.

The Gauchos will only be losing two seniors from last year, which allows the returners to grow and improve themselves as well as their chemistry as a team. UCSB’s five leaders in kills from last season were all underclassmen, and thus they are all returning as veterans in 2018.

One of these five is star outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins, who led the NCAA with 5.84 kills per set in 2017 and plans on returning to form again this year.

Also returning are the Gauchos’ leaders in assists from last year, senior setters Annie Hasselmann and Lexi Rottman, who will benefit from another year of growth with a similar team. For a team that struggled at times last season to put everything together and compete, the return of most of the main contributors is important to having a comeback season.

While many key players will be returning to the floor again in 2018, Head Coach Lantagne Welch has also added more depth to the Gaucho roster by way of six freshman recruits and one transfer.

These Gaucho newcomers will certainly benefit from playing alongside the experience of the eight upperclassmen on the team, but they will also be asked to contribute a significant amount in their first year due to the upside and talent of these accomplished freshmen.

One of the Gauchos’ weaknesses in years past has been their overall depth, and opposing teams were able to exploit that over the course of a match. However, with so many experienced veterans and new pieces, the previous lack of depth should no longer be a weakness, but rather a strength that will benefit Lantagne Welch’s squad this season.

Last season was difficult for the Gauchos, as they got off to a rough start and were only able to win one non-conference game in the early stages of the season. They managed to pick things up during conference play and put together a solid 7-9 record against Big West opponents.

The team will certainly expect more consistent play throughout the season with a more experienced and talented team this time around.

There is a lot of optimism going into this season with many interesting new pieces and returning stars; however, this does mean that expectations will be higher for the Gauchos and Coach Lantagne Welch.

UCSB women’s volleyball has not had a winning record in the Big West since the 2013 season, during which they went 13-3, won a share of the conference title and secured an NCAA tournament berth.

While the expectations might not be that high for this year, improvement is expected, and the team knows this, so they will definitely come out of the gate motivated to show that this year is different.

The Gauchos begin their season on Friday, Aug. 24, with a match against the Cincinnati Bearcats, during which they hope to get their season started off on the right note.