Olivia Lovenburg sets for Zoe Fleck. Angie Banks/Daily Nexus

Division 1 volleyball at the NCAA level is no joke, and for incoming freshmen there is often a learning curve that comes with adjusting to a higher level of play.

Some of these newcomers are forced to wait their turn behind more experienced players who have earned their roles over the course of their collegiate career. This allows them to sit back and learn about their new environment so that by the time their name is called, they will be mentally and physically prepared to play.

The path toward contributing to your team’s success usually involves some waiting and learning on the part of younger players, but not in the case of UCSB’s star freshman setter, Olivia Lovenberg. The San Diego native had earned the starting setter position before the Gauchos opened their season and consequently she was forced to adjust on the fly.

“I wasn’t really expecting it, but it’s been amazing,” Lovenberg said.

Needless to say, she accepted her role and excelled immediately as she put up four double-doubles with assists and digs in her first six games, and she kept her production consistent throughout the entire season as she led the Big West Conference in assists per set. There are benefits to learning from the sidelines, but there is no substitute for getting game-reps and learning while on the floor.

Young players are forced to go through the difficult period of getting used to the college level, and they can ease this transition along if other new players are there alongside them. This year’s class of newcomers includes one transfer along with seven freshmen, one of whom was Lovenberg. She claims that she benefited from being a part of a larger freshman class.

It was definitely nice to come in with a bigger class because we have such an intense everyday schedule,” Lovenberg said. “So coming in with these girls who are going through the same things as you are was super helpful.”

A group of young, talented players is a great indicator of future success, but in order to succeed in the present moment, a team needs its veterans to contribute on the floor as well as mentor the underclassmen. The Gauchos have three seniors on the roster this season who all mean a lot to newcomers such as Lovenberg.

The three seniors that we’re losing are a super big part of our team, but we’re all really close like a family, so I think our chemistry will carry over and we’ll be able to come out strong next year.”

The season as a whole for the Gauchos had its ups and downs, but they managed to put it all together for a stretch run as they won five of their last seven matches, including three straight wins to finish the season in fourth place in the Big West at 9-7.

“I definitely think it was a huge momentum change,” Lovenberg said. “Those three games were all consistent, really good team wins that I think really helped us moving forward to next year.”

UCSB ended its season on a high note, but as this year’s highly-touted freshman class gets a year older and a new class of freshmen join next year, the expectations will undoubtedly be higher. Lovenberg is aware of the raised expectations and is willing to embrace them in order to take the next step as a team.

“I think the expectations are probably going to grow and we’re all gonna work harder,” Lovenberg said. “It will create a friendly  competitive environment and we’re all gonna strive to be the best we can be.”

With her freshman season in the books, and a Big West All-Freshman team to her name, Olivia Lovenberg is on the fast track to success at the college level. Paired with a young team on the rise,  Lovenberg’s talents and mindset should allow for a promising future for Gaucho volleyball.

A version of this story appeared on p. 6 of the Nov. 29, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.