Freshman libero Taylor Formico, junior outside hitter Leah Sully, and junior opposite Katey Thompson were all named to the Big West All-Conference Team, the conference announced on Tuesday morning.
Formico and Sully were both named to the First Team, with Formico also taking home Freshman of the Year and All-Freshman Team honors. Thompson was named as an Honorable Mention.
For Sully, it was the second time being honored with an All-Conference pick – she was an Honorable Mention in 2011 – while Formico and Thompson appeared for the first time in their careers.
Taylor Formico was voted Freshman of the Year after a historic first year at UCSB. Formico led the entire nation in digs with 792, setting a new UCSB and Big West Conference record in the process. The previous record was held by Chelsey Lowe, who recorded 652 digs in 2011. Formico’s 5.87 digs per game average ranked first in the conference and region, and eighth nationally. On Oct. 19, Taylor tied a rally-scoring era record with 41 digs against Cal State Fullerton.She also recorded 30 or more digs in a match 12 times, which accounted for over half of the 30+ dig performances in the Big West and almost twice as many as any other player in the nation. Not limited to just defense, Taylor vastly improved on her serving over the year, ending the season with the fourth-most aces per game (0.27/g) in conference play.
“To have Taylor get Freshman of the Year is just unbelievable,” said UCSB head coach Kathy Gregory. “She’s really deserving, because she’s the type of player that comes to practice and gives 100 percent.”
“It’s a great honor, and she did it the hard way,” Gregory continued. “She did it all on guts, instinct, skill, technique, and the will to win.”
Formico becomes the seventh Big West Freshman of the Year in UCSB history, but the first since Olivia Waldowski in 2003. The Gauchos have now had a representative on the All-Freshman Team in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Leah Sully was named to the All-Conference First Team after leading the Big West in kills with 558. The Gauchos relied heavily on Sully, as she recorded a school record 1,798 swings in the 2012 season. Leah responded well to an increased workload, ranking third in the conference and 44th nationally in kill average. On Nov. 23, Sully recorded a career-high 31 kills – the second most kills in a match by a Gaucho in the rally-scoring era – including 12 in the second set alone. Leah’s multifaceted skill set manifested itself in a team-best 33 aces, 495 digs – sixth most in the conference and ninth most in school history – and a skimpy 26 reception errors – which was the least among UCSB’s primary passers. Sully ended the season with double-doubles in seven straight, 15 of her last 16 matches, and 26 overall.
“Leah made the biggest improvement of any player – to have to take 80 swings a match, to have to be the best passer,” said Gregory. “I told Leah she couldn’t take a play off.’ She’s the total all around player and she steps up in the big moments even though she always has two blockers on her.”
Katey Thompson battled chronic injuries to deliver a solid all-around season for the Gauchos, culminating in a selection to the Honorable Mention Team. Thompson finished second on the Gauchos in kills (311, 2.68 per game) and blocks (123, 1.06 per game), while ranking third in aces (28, 0.24 per game) despite ranking sixth in actual games played.
“I’m glad she was named to the team,” said Gregory. “She had a number of great games even though she isn’t 100 percent physically. She has the spirit and guts to persevere, and I think she showed that throughout the year when she maintained a high level of play.”