August 24, 2010

Women's Volleyball Season Preview Day 2: Outside Hitters and Opposites

Aug. 24, 2010

Coming off of one of its best seasons in recent memory - a 22-8 overall record and a 27th NCAA Tournament appearance - the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team returns five starters to its talented squad, a group that is currently receiving votes in the preseason Top-25 poll.

The Gauchos open their season on Friday, August 27 at the Cal Molten Classic and the team begins its home schedule on Monday, August 30 when they face Cincinnati at 7 p.m. at Rob Gym. In this four-part preview, today we will take a look at the outside hitters that are part of the Gauchos' roster. To see the defensive specialist/libero preview, please click here.

Losing one of the best players to ever put on a Gaucho uniform at a key position will be a large task for the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team to overcome. However, if there is one area of the 2010 team that has a tremendous amount of talent and depth, it's the outsider hitter spot.

Rebecca Saraceno, the 2009 Big West Player of the Year and an All-American, is gone after graduating and leaving her mark on the school record books. That leaves big shoes to fill for this year's crop of outside hitters and opposites on Kathy Gregory's squad.

"This is the key position for us," Gregory said.

Charlene DeHoog returns for her senior season and is tabbed to be one of the Gauchos' starters. Two years ago, DeHoog finished second on the team in kills and last year she saw action in all but three matches.

DeHoog is the team's leading returner in total kills with 523 in her career. The Bakersfield, Calif. native has also been adept defensively, too, totaling 257 digs.

"We are looking for Charlene to have a breakout year for us," Gregory said. "She will be starting and playing all around. She has improved her arm swing and we are looking for her to be a big scorer for us this year. She'll be jump serving for us and we're asking her to carry a big offensive load."

Joining DeHoog in bringing a large part of UCSB's offensive attack will be sophomore Leah Sully, who played in every single one of the team's sets last season. After finishing third on the Gauchos with 223 kills (a 1.87 kill per set average) last season, Sully will undoubtedly improve upon those numbers this year.

"She has improved physically after having a great year for us as a freshman," Gregory said. "This year we need her hitting numbers to be better and she has worked hard to improve her jump and her arm swing. We are looking for her hitting efficiency to be higher."

After redshirting in 2009, Kara Sherrard is ready to step in and be a big part of the team this season.

"She will backup (the outside hitter) position and she has really worked hard to be a part of this team," Gregory said of the Lancaster, Calif. native. "She has a good arm and we will look for her to be a player who comes off the bench and will be a consistent threat at the outside hitter spot."

Moving from the back row to the outside hitter spot will be sophomore Erica Lau.

"She will be a utility player who can play the back row and we are training her to play offensively," Gregory said. "She is getting stronger each day and as her ball control and physical ability improves, she will compete to be a reserve on offense and we can use her as a serving specialist."

On the opposite side, Gregory has a lot of young talent to work with.

Sophomore Mimi Cuttrell will be expected to a major part of the Gaucho attack after seeing action in seven matches as a freshman.

"Physically, she's one of the most talented," Gregory said. "She has really made the commitment to get stronger. Offensively she will help us on the right side. This year she is showing more maturity and focus."

Joining Cuttrell on the right side will be a pair of freshman, who will be counted on to make an immediate impact.

Fresh off a state title at Newport Harbor High, Katey Thompson should see plenty of time in the blue and gold this year.

"She is one of the most competitive players on the court and she's very vocal," Gregory said. "She can hit a lot of different sets on the right side and she has a great jump serve."

Another freshman who will add to the Gauchos' depth will be Jenna Wilson, from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

"She has a very long arm and is a tremendous athlete with a lot of upside," Gregory said. "She is training at three positions (outside hitter, opposite, middle blocker), but if she gets on the court this year, we will use her on the right side."

The Gauchos will host Cincinnati on Monday, August 30 at 7 p.m. Rob Gym. To purchase tickets, please call (805) 893-UCSB, visit the Ticket Office located inside the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus or buy online and print at home by clicking here.

The Intercollegiate Athletics Ticket Office has two parking spaces adjacent to the building and is now open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., making it easier than ever for fans to purchase tickets. The two parking spots, designated specifically for the Ticket Office, are also available during weekday hours, which are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Gaucho Fund, launched as part of the Dare to Be Great strategic plan, is UCSB Athletics' annual giving program to provide vital funding support for scholarships, academic success and leadership development for Gaucho student-athletes. The Gaucho Fund is the anchor to the Dare to Be Great campaign.

GKids is the official kids club of UCSB Athletics. Members receive a free GKids t-shirt, free admittance to tons of Gaucho games, opportunities to be ball boys and girls at games, a special birthday greeting from Olie (the GKids mascot) and much, much more! For more information on GKids, or to become a member, please click here.