Women's Volleyball 2018 Season Preview Pt. I: Defensive Specialists

Emilia Petrachi (Photo by JC Corliss)
Emilia Petrachi (Photo by JC Corliss)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team held its report date on Tuesday, marking the first official day of practice in preparation for its 2018 fall slate. With the Gauchos' August 24 season-opener at the Miami Invitational fast-approaching, we will once again head into the year by taking a look at each of the team's four position units, beginning with the defensive specialist/libero group.

PART I: DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS/LIBEROS

Emilia Petrachi – Senior
As has been the case in recent years, the 2018 Gauchos will feature four players bearing the defensive specialist/libero moniker, led by 2017 All-Big West Honorable Mention Emilia Petrachi.

"I smile when I think about what this group of libero/defensive specialists brings to our team," head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "Clearly, Emi is an incredible libero and a leader of our team. She does everything well."

Arguably the team's most consistent producer on either side of the ball these past three seasons, the Modena, Italy native enters her senior year coming off the most productive campaign of her career. As a junior, she registered a Big West-leading 4.95 digs per set, pacing the conference for the second consecutive season. Her digs per set average also improved for the second straight year, a fact which in 2017 saw her post a career-high 510 scoops, good for ninth all-time in the UCSB record books.

Petrachi initially burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2015, making an instant impact with her ability to be a leader on the defensive end while filling up box scores at will. In just her third career outing, she put up a whopping 30 digs in four sets at Pepperdine, a performance which remains tied for the most single-match digs during the Lantagne Welch-era. That would prove to be a sign of things to come, as Petrachi's first-year success eventually garnered three Big West weekly awards and an All-Freshman Team selection.

For her career, the senior has five Big West Defensive Player of the Week honors to her name – one shy of the all-time league record. The 1,422 digs she has amassed over three seasons currently place her ninth in program history and just 320 away from Leah Sully's (2009-13) all-time mark. With an average of nearly 17 digs per match since 2015, Petrachi's extreme levels of consistency have seen her miss out on double-digit digs just nine times in 84 appearances, making her a good bet to continue climbing further up the UCSB all-time charts.

Kobie Jimenez – Sophomore
Backing up Petrachi is the only other returner of the bunch in second-year Gaucho Kobie Jimenez. As a freshman last season, the former Ventura High School standout played in 23 matches, reaching double-figures in the dig department on six occasions. Three of her 10-plus dig outings came over the final six matches of the season, including a season-high 13-scoop performance in a win over UC Irvine.

Jimenez would close out the year starting in the back row in 11 of the final 12 matches, finishing the year with 148 digs, 13 assists and nine aces. Her 1.97 digs per set were the most of any Gaucho true freshman since Petrachi in 2015, ranking fourth on the team.

"Adding to what [Petrachi] brings, we have Kobie with a year of experience, who was big for us in many matches last year that she can build on," Lantagne Welch said.

Zoe Fleck & Grace Kloss – Freshmen
Rounding out the unit are standout newcomers to UCSB's back row in Zoe Fleck and Grace Kloss. The dynamic pair has already made a strong impression on its head coach, earning praise as "two of the most polished freshmen I have coached in this position."

Fleck joins the squad on the heels of an outstanding career at Sierra Canyon High, in which she finished with a school record 1,474 career digs – 494 coming during her senior season alone. Fleck was a Second Team AVCA/Under Armour All-American choice, a three-time all-league first team pick and was honored as Gold Coast League MVP as a junior in 2016. With her patrolling the back row, the Trailblazers won CIF Championships in both 2016 and 2017 and were crowned state champions last season after downing Sacred Heart in the title match. 

"Zoe has an infectious personality that has her bringing out the best in those around her," Lantagne Welch said. "She is an incredible defender, reliable passer, and driven competitor."

The sole out-of-state member of this year's recruiting class, Grace Kloss will bring her serving and passing talents to the Thunderdome floor. Kloss was a three-year starter at Waubonsie Valley High School, where she dominated both on defense and at the service line, as she led her team in aces as both a junior and senior, including a standout mark of 45 aces in her final season. 

"Grace shows how disciplined and locked in she is every time she is on the floor," Lantagne Welch said. "She has a natural passing platform and her consistency brings a steady presence that her teammates can always count on."

The Gauchos play their first home matches of the new season on Sept. 7 and 8 as part of the Thunderdome Classic. Season tickets for the 2018 season are now available and can be purchased by calling 805-893-UCSB or by clicking here.

Interested in UCSB's other fall sports? Season tickets for soccer are also available now! For more information or to purchase tickets, please click here.