Sunday, November 3, 2013

Interview with UCSB Women's Volleyball Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch

Gaucho Hoops ("GH"):  Thanks for taking this interview on such notice, Coach Welch.  Let's start with:  why was the UCSB women's volleyball coach a destination job for you?  After all, the University of Miami (FL) is a big time program in the ACC.  You achieved major success there.  In fact, your team was fresh off an NCAA tournament appearance and you were honored as ACC Coach of the Year.

Nicole Lantagne Welch ("NLW"):  First off I'm a California native and always wanted to get back "home."  Family is important to me.  My parents were born and raised in Santa Barbara--they attended Santa Barbara High.  I have aunts, uncles, cousins- many family members here in Santa Barbara that can now be a bigger part of our lives and my children are much closer to their grandparents.

GH:  Where did you grow up and where did you play volleyball?

NLW:  I was raised in Encinitas, CA and attended University of Maryland.  But I came to Santa Barbara many times for holidays and any breaks from school.  I love the place.

GH:  Besides Santa Barbara, what other destination was ideal?

NLW:  San Diego.  But UCSB was a dream job because I knew it could be so successful.  Again, its academics, location and history of the program- what Coach Kathy Gregory had established here.

GH:  Speaking of Coach Gregory, how was the transition?  What helped the team during this transition?

NLW:  The returnees made it easy to transition to our way, our coaching.  They bought in to everything we were trying to do and embraced the differences

GH:  The win at the University of Hawaii was a major breakthrough for the Gauchos program.  The win snapped a long UH home winning streak.  How did your team accomplish that win?

NLW:  We stuck to the game plan.  Previously we played a tough out of conference schedule.  We were in all our matches.  We played USC tough, when they were ranked #1.  By always being in matches, the team developed a belief that they could play with anybody.  That belief in themselves carried them to finish out Hawaii.  That win was huge for our confidence.

GH:  How do you maintain the momentum of beating Hawaii?

NLW:  We focus on our next opponent--our next weekend of opponents.  We realize any opponent can win, so we focus on playing our best, one match at a time.  We respect our opponents.  For example, in our next match we were able to sweep CSUN, who was undefeated in conference at the time.

GH:  What are your goals for the rest of the season?

NLW:  We've finished the first half of conference 7 - 1.  If anyone had asked me back in February if we'd take a 7 - 1 conference record into the second half of the season, I would have jumped on it.  So we have exceeded my expectations so far because we have worked hard to improve and get better.  But our goal is now to win the Big West regular season championship, because that gets us an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA tournament is somewhat similar to basketball:  there are 32 automatic berths, and 32 at-large invitees.  The winners of the Big West regular season get the automatic invite into the NCAA tournament.

GH:  Longer term, what are your objectives for the program?

NLW:  My job is to get the team to play at a higher level consistently.  We've had some freshmen step up big this season:  Ali Spindt, Allie Sullberg, and Phoebe Grunt.  Our seniors have led the way:  Leah Sully, Katey Thompson, and Kara Sherrard.

They all work hard and are intense.  One area of improvement is our conditioning.  Our first work out left them spent last spring.

GH:  One area Coach Gregory emphasized was the vocal leadership of her teams, as she was vocal herself, so she wanted her players to display vocal leadership.  Who is your leader in that aspect?

NLW:  Katey is the most vocal--and very energetic.  The team players better when Katey plays with energy.  Her energy rubs off on her teammates, and they play with more focus.  I would say that Leah Sully, Shauna Klein and Ali Santi also provide vocal leadership for the team.

GH:  Has recruiting picked up with your recent success?

NLW:  We hit the ground running since I arrived.  We are able to recruit well because of the academics and location here at UCSB.  We are developing a winning culture.

GH:  Where do you envision your program a few years down the road?

NLW:  We want to be competing for Big West championships year in and year out.  We want to go to the NCAA tournament on a yearly basis.  We want to be a top-25 program and then take things from there.

GH:  Sounds awesome.  Thanks again, Coach Welch and good luck the rest of the season.

Editor's note:  Coach Welch is intense during practice, but her smile lit up the Thunderdome after practice.  Her players respect her, she's demanding of them, and she is able to relate to them on a personal level.

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