Gauchos ranked third in BWC preseason volleyball poll

UCSB was picked third in the Big West coaches’ preseason poll for women’s volleyball.

The Gauchos are coming off their first season under coach Nicole Lantagne Welch, who guided them to a share of the Big West title with Hawaii and Cal State Northridge. It was the program’s first conference title since 2005.

Hawaii was selected as the favorite to win the conference. The Rainbow Wahine received five first-place votes and 77 total points. Long Beach finished second in the poll with 68 points, while UCSB earned 63 points, and two first-place votes. Northridge nabbed the final first-place votes and tallied 60 points for fourth place.

UC Irvine, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside rounded out the nine-team field.

Nicole Lantagne Welch guided UCSB to a share of the Big West title in her first year at the helm.

Nicole Lantagne Welch guided UCSB to a share of the Big West title in her first year at the helm.

UCSB returns the majority of its team that went 13-3 in conference and earned a NCAA Tournament berth. The returnees include All-Big West first-team players Ali Spindt and Ali Barbeau. The 6-foot Spindt, an outside hitter, was named the 2013 Big West Freshman of the Year. She recorded a team-best 315 kills and finished second on the squad in points scored with 357.

Barbeau, a junior, ranked third on the team in kills with 267.

Another key front-line returnee is 6-4 middle Phoebe Grunt. She made the All-Big West Freshman Team after a season that included 110 kills, 11 block solos and 120 block assists.

Hannah?Nielson returns at setter after playing in all 29 matches as a sophomore. She recorded a team-high 719 assists.

Dave Shoji enters his 40th season at Hawai’i. He loses Big West Player of the Year Emily Hartong and first-team setter Mita Uiato, but there’s plenty of talent on the squad with first-team outside hitter, 6-3 Nikki Taylor, 6-1 Kalei Adolpho and a top-12 ranked recruiting class. Santa Barbara High grad Sarah Mendoza is a defensive specialist for the Rainbow Wahine.

Long Beach State has a powerful front line returning, led by first-team All-Big West player Chisom Okpala. She led the league with a 2.70 blocks per set average. She’s joined by outside hitter Alex Reid, who finished second on the team last season with a 2.90 kill average, and opposite Bre Mackie, who notched 2.19 kills per match. The 49ers also have international players, Sophie Bukovec and Anete Brinke, who have the potential to make an immediate impact.

2014 Big West Women’s Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Hawai’i (5) – 77
2. Long Beach State (1) – 68
3. UC Santa Barbara (2) – 63
4. CSUN (1) – 60
5. UC Irvine – 42
6. Cal Poly – 34
7. UC Davis – 25
8. Cal State Fullerton – 24
9. UC Riverside – 12

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