Women's Volleyball Season Preview: Gauchos Have Their Eye on the NCAA Tourney
Gone are All-Americans Stacey Schmidt and Chelsey Lowe. Gone is All-Big West first teamer Lily Lopez and Big West Freshman of the Year Hanna Nielson.
Replacing them is a roster made up of mostly fresh faces, including just three returning starters and seven freshmen.
Is the 2012 UCSB Women's Volleyball team due for a disappointment?
"This year's season will have a different look because we lost three very important pieces to this team," stated Gregory, "were going to have a much younger lineup. But I still feel we are very capable of competing in and being one of the best teams in the Big West and qualifying for a bid into the NCAA tourney."
In addition to the lack of a clear-cut top option, just three starters return from last year's 19-12 squad that rattled off a 7-1 hot streak to end the season. With so many new faces, it begs the question of whether or not this team can gel and develop chemistry in time for the new season.
This jump start should lend itself to better consistency from the Gauchos, who hovered around the .500 mark for most of last season before catapulting up the standings on the back of the aforementioned 7-1 run.
Team captain Erica Lau is feeling strongly about the team as well: "I'm really excited for the season. We have a lot of depth and we're giving Kathy a lot of options to pull from off the bench. We have great passing and defense, which has been a staple of UCSB volleyball."
In the end, for the Gauchos to be successful they'll have to receive continued excellent play from their returning starters and have a number of freshmen meet expectations of them. If history is any guide, Kathy Gregory will get the best out of this 2012 squad.
The outside hitter position is the one with the most continuity for the Gauchos, as juniors Leah Sully and Kara Sherrard both return.
Kara Sherrard should continue to be a solid option for the Gauchos. Kara, in her third year of starting, went from being a young pup to one of the longest tenured members of the team in a two-month span. Sherrard's passing was a bright spot for the Gauchos last year, as she recorded the fewest receiving errors of the primary serve receivers last year despite being served to the most times (32, 769).
Junior middle blocker Jenna Wilson is the only other returning starter for the Gauchos. Despite not being widely lauded, Wilson had an excellent season in 2011-leading the team with 0.96 blocks per game. In 2012, Gregory will ask her to assume more of an offensive role. Wilson has shown she has the offensive chops, putting down 103 kills in 103 games a year ago.
Freshman Taylor Formico will slide into the libero role for UCSB. Formico is a very agile and decorated athlete, having won MVP of the WCAL league during her senior year at St. Francis High School. "She's exceptionally quick," according to Gregory, "but she needs a little experience. These preseason events will be good for her."
Taking over at setter is Ali Santi, a sophomore transfer from Georgia Tech. Though the backup last season, Santi actually led the Yellow Jackets with 10.89 assists per game. "She's a very good leader and a good competitor," according to Gregory. Santi follows in the footsteps of Hanna Nielson and UCSB legend Dana Vargas, so she has her work cut out for her. However, once she becomes comfortable with her team, there should be no reason to think she cannot put up impressive numbers.