December 2, 2013

Lantagne Welch Named Coach of the Year, Five Gauchos Named All-Big West

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Led by Co-Big West Coach of the Year Nicole Lantagne Welch and Freshman of the Year Ali Spindt, five Gauchos were named to the all-conference team it was announced Monday.

Senior opposite Katey Thompson, senior libero Leah Sully, sophomore outside hitter Ali Barbeau, and freshman middle blocker Phoebe Grunt were also named All-Big West.

The five players are the most UCSB has had selected to the all-conference team since 2005, which was also the last time the Gauchos won the Big West.

First year head coach Lantagne Welch was named the Co-Coach of the Year along with Jeff Stork of Cal State Northridge. She becomes the second coach in school history — alongside current men's basketball head coach Bob Williams — to be named Big West Coach of the Year in their first season at UCSB after earning the same honors at another conference in the year prior to their hiring at Santa Barbara. She is the first Gaucho coach to earn the award since Kathy Gregory won it in 2009.

Lantagne Welch led the Gauchos to the Big West title in her inaugural season, and also coached them to an NCAA Tournament berth. With a 13-3 record, the team's conference finish was its best since 2004. Under Lantagne Welch, UCSB will be making its 28th NCAA Tournament appearance, becoming just one of seven programs to accomplish that feat.

In addition to First Team All-Big West and All-Freshman Team honors, Ali Spindt was also voted as the Big West Freshman of the Year. The outside hitter finished the regular season as the Gauchos' kills leader (309), the most among conference freshmen. She also recorded the second-most digs on the team with 320. Spindt has accounted for 13 double-doubles this season, by far the most of any Gaucho.

For the second season in a row, the Gauchos have had the freshman of the year winner. It is the third time in program history that a UCSB player earned the title in consecutive seasons. The Gauchos have a Big West record eight players receive the award.  

Katey Thompson hit career-highs in nearly every category this year and was rewarded by being named an All-Big West first teamer. The had the second-most kills on the team (302) and averaged 3.25 kills per set, the conference's third-highest mark. She has also been a threat at the service line, as she dealt 35 service aces to lead the team. She is also averaging 0.38 aces per set, second best in the Big West.

Fellow senior Leah Sully earned First Team All-Big West accolades for the second time in her career. Last season, Sully gained first team honors as an outside hitter when she had 558 kills, the fifth-highest single season total in Gaucho history. This season, however, Sully did not exclusively compete as an outside hitter, as she switched to libero at the start of conference play after an injury kept her from attacking. The senior slipped into her new role with ease and finished with the most digs in the Big West at 434.

She also captured history with her now position, as she became the program's all-time digs leader with 1,723 career scoops. 

Ali Barbeau earned First Team all-conference accolades after hitting for the third-most kills on the roster at 265. Overall, the sophomore put up 301 points over the course of the season.  She has also led the Gauchos in the kill category six times this year.

In her first season, Phoebe Grunt was selected as an All-Big West Honorable Mention. At middle blocker, Grunt finished with the league's top blocks per set average at 1.26 and led UCSB with 125 total blocks. Some of her best performances came against USC, when she recorded a season-high 11 blocks, and against Hawai'i when she posted 10 block assists and five kills.

Along with Spindt, Grunt was also named All-Freshman. UCSB has had at least one player included in 15 of the past 16 All-Freshman teams.

The Gauchos are not finished with their season, as they will play the University of San Diego this Friday to open the NCAA Tournament.