WVB: Lantagne Welch, Spindt earn Big West honors

Nicole Lantagne Welch made a little history in her first year coaching the UCSB women’s volleyball team.

Lantagne Welch on Monday was named co-Coach of the Year in the Big West, becoming the second coach in school history to win the award a season after winning the same honor in another conference. She won the award last season in the ACC after guiding Miami to the conference title and a NCAA berth.

Nicole Lantagne Welch was named Big West co-Coach of the Year in her first season at UCSB.

Nicole Lantagne Welch was named Big West co-Coach of the Year in her first season at UCSB.

The other coach at UCSB to accomplish the feat is men’s basketball coach Bob Williams. He won the award in the Northern California Athletic Conference in his final year at UC Davis and earned the Big West honor the following season.

Lantagne Welch shared the Big West honor with Jeff Stork of Cal State Northridge.

From the team, Ali Spindt was named the Big West Freshman of the Year and four Gauchos were named to the all-conference team.

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

The five all-conference players are the most for UCSB since 2005, which was also the last time the Gauchos won the Big West.

Spindt, an outside hitter, finished the regular season with the most kills of any conference freshman with 302. She also recorded the second-most digs on the team with 320. Spindt has accounted for 13 double doubles this season, the most of any Gaucho.

It’s the second straight year the Gauchos have had the freshman of the year winner and the third time in program history a UCSB player earned the title in consecutive seasons. The Gauchos have a Big West record of eight players receive the award.

Thompson hit career-highs in nearly every category this year and was rewarded by being named an All-Big West first teamer. The Gauchos’ kills leader (309) 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.

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.

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, 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.

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.

The Gauchos will play at ninth-seeded University of San Diego in the first round on Friday.