With the school year yet to start, several UCSB intercollegiate sports teams have already had their season openers, including the Gauchos Women's Volleyball team. Gaucho Hoops sat down with Head Coach Kathy Gregory to get an exclusive interview and preview of the season's prospects.
Gaucho Hoops ("GH"): Thanks for taking time out for this interview, Coach Gregory. Let's jump right into it. The program lost a few prominent seniors, but welcome in a celebrated freshman class. Can you tell us more about them?
Kathy Gregory ("KG"): The freshman recruits arrived on campus around June 20 - 22. It's important they arrive early so they can adjust to the highest competitive level of volleyball, as well as the academic rigors of attending classes. Physically, they also hit the weights and get the opportunity to bond together as a team.
GH: What kind of conditioning program do the players undergo?
KG: In addition to hitting the weights, some of the players get training from Marcus Elliott over at P3 Peak Performance Project, where they receive 1-on-1 undivided attention. (editor's note: several pro athletes also attend P3, including UCSB Men's Basketball player Orlando Johnson, recently drafted by the NBA's Indiana Pacers). The conditioning and training program focuses on injury prevention, promoting fast twitch muscle quickness, quick jumping strength, and faster arm swing, all necessary to excel above the 7'4" net, along the boundaries of a 30 x 60 foot volleyball court.
GH: What specific individual drills do the players perform?
KG: The skills we focus on involve precision, reach, jumping, and approach jumping. The team should have improved jumpers. Last year we had 3 players who could touch 10 feet--this year 4 players can reach that height.
GH: Describe how you plan on replacing last year's seniors.
KG: We lost 3 seniors from last year's roster, 2 of them All-Americans [Stacey Schmidt and Chelsey Lowe], and a key 4-year player [Lily Lopez]. We have 4 high-impact freshman coming in.
Taylor Formica is a 5'7" Libero. Britton Taylor is a 6'3" Middle Blocker. She may back up junior Katey Thompson, who has a great arm swing, but has been slowed by injuries in the past. Jaylen Villanueva is a 5'9" setter. Alex Barbeau is a 6'1" outsider hitter with great arm swing.
GH: Can you tell us about the other players on the roster?
KG: Ali Santi is a 5'10" setter, sophomore transfer from Georgia Tech. Jenna Wilson is a 6'1" junior middle blocker who has really improved. Erica Lau is our senior captain, and a 5'10" backcourt specialist. Also returning are junior outside hitters 6'0" Kara Sherrard and 5'11" Leah Sully, who is also a good passer and server.
GH: What schemes will you be running this season?
KG: We've traditionally run a 5-1 offense, but this year, we will also run a 6-2 offense, with 3 hitters and setters from the back.
GH: What are the biggest challenges for this group?
KG: The biggest question is leadership. With the departure of last year's seniors, who will emerge as this team's leaders? This year's team tends to be shy, so the leaders will have to emerge and be more vocal, outgoing, and competitive.
GH: What are your assessments for the other Big West squads?
KG: UH [University of Hawaii] will be tough, and all 10 teams present challenges, so we don't anticipate any redshirts. We will need all the depth we can get because we play back-to-back matches on Fridays and Saturdays. It's conducive for academics and reduces time away from classes.
GH: What are the team goals?
KG: We are capable of winning the Big West so that is one of our goals. We have 6 incoming freshmen, and they give a lot of energy. Long Beach St. and UH should be the favorites coming into the season, with CSUN picked to be 3rd.
Our defense should be good, and we will have a balanced attack on offense. We play an early tournament in August, and will also host 3 other teams in our own UCSB Invitational, of which the top-ranked UCLA Bruins will be one. This should provide a good test for the Gauchos on where the team is at.
GH: What kind of players do you recruit?
KG: High academics is a high priority. We have a 100% graduation rate over my 37-year career. The girls have to be able to handle the class load over 4 years while also being competitive in practice and in matches.
They have to be easy to coach. What does that mean? That means they want to improve, they're willing to work hard to become better, and want to be pushed to reach their potential.
What I try to instill in my players is how special this campus is. Not just the weather being good, but also how special the community is, the education, the location, and the experience they will have at UCSB. It's the whole package, and they should not take it for granted.
GH: Coach Gregory, I recall when I took your beach volleyball class years ago, you were once the #1 ranked beach volleyball player in the world--remarkably at the age of 42. What have you learned from that experience, and what message have you given your players over the years as their coach?
KG: What I have tried to instill in my players is that competitive fire and will to win. I have a competitive nature, and that's what has kept me going over the years. I'll keep coaching until I lose that fire. After 38 years of coaching, I still get up every morning ready to charge ahead.
I urge my players to give their best health-wise. Don't take for granted this opportunity to play competitive volleyball at the highest levels, and show gratitude and appreciation. Enjoy the journey, and give back to the sport. Be tough to be able to withstand the challenges standing in your way. Build a foundation for life after volleyball. And have a sense of humor to get through the rough edges.
GH: Those are great life lessons and advice, Coach Gregory. Thanks again and good luck this season.
KG: Thank you and come out and support our Lady Gauchos!