Dec. 16, 2009
The conclusion of the first decade of the new millennium is just days away and to commemorate it, the UC Santa Barbara Athletics Department will take a look back and honor the athletes who have made the biggest impact on their respective teams over the past 10 years.
It has been a decade that saw a national championship, numerous Big West titles, All-Americans, Players of the Year, record-setting performances and far more victories than defeats.
In a retrospective look, the team sports at UCSB will release the All-Decade Teams - compiling the players who helped make those teams successful from 2000-09.
Sure, there are certain criteria for selecting the starting lineups of these teams. To be considered for the All-Decade Team in his or her sport, a student-athlete must have played the majority of their contests in the past 10 years; student-athletes who spent more time at UCSB to accomplish greater things typically will be given the edge over those who either left early or started late, but it won't rule transfer students or those who departed for professional careers out; while the players selected may have won more awards or had better statistics, the All-Decade Teams don't go solely by what happens between the lines or shows up in the box scores - intangibles play a large role; the idea of the All-Decade Team is to make the best starting lineup of the players who competed for UCSB from 2000-09.
To start the 10-part series, due to be released over the final two weeks of 2009, the UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team will be the first featured in the All-Decade Team.
Over the past 10 seasons, the women's volleyball team won over 200 matches and compiled a .668 winning percentage while capturing four Big West titles and finishing second in the conference two other times. The Gauchos made eight NCAA Tournament appearances in the decade.
UCSB had eight players named All-Americans, 10 others named to the All-Region team, three Big West Players of the Year, 17 All-Big West First Team players, two conference Freshman of the Year honorees and numerous school records broken or challenged.
Picking a starting six from 2000-09 was not simple based on the team's success and all the decorated players that came through the Thunderdome, but here is the six that make up the All-Decade Team, in alphabetical order.
Megan Blackshire, 2002-05, Middle Blocker
A two-time All-West Region pick, Blackshire averaged 2.78 kills per set and hit .345 in her time at UCSB, which is fourth in school history. She ranks sixth all-time in school history in total blocks and was a three-time First Team All-Big West selection, and in 2002 was named the conference's Freshman of the Year. Her .386 hitting percentage in 2004 is second in school annals.
"She was an impact player since her freshman year," Kathy Gregory, UCSB's head coach for 35 years, said. "She was very smart - she had a very high volleyball IQ. "She was extremely fast on closing the block. Her will to win was unmatched."
Danielle Bauer, 1999-2002, Middle Blocker
Danielle Bauer was an All-American in 2002, the same season she was named the Big West Player of the Year and was an All-West Region selection. The Santa Ana, Calif. native was a three-time First Team All-Big West pick and is second in school history with her 1,552 kills. Her 4.11 career kill average is third in UCSB history and she is 10th all-time in total blocks. In three separate seasons, Bauer ranks in the school's top-10 in kill average.
"She was a phenomenal athlete and at 5-11 she could dominate the attacking against girls who were much bigger," Kathy Gregory said. "She was one of the best blockers and one of the best back row hitters."
Erica Menzel, 2000-03, Outside Hitter
Twice named to the All-Big West First Team, selected as an All-West Region team in 2002, an All-Big West Freshman Team pick and a Second Team All-Big West selection, Erica Menzel finished her career sixth all-time at UCSB in career kills. The local product is eighth all-time with her 3.55 kills per set average and fourth in career attempts. Showing her all-around capabilities, Menzel is seventh with over 1,400 career digs.
"She had one of the best arm swings in volleyball," Gregory said. "She could pass, dig, jump serve and she was one of the best competitors to ever wear a UCSB uniform. Although she was only 5-9, she didn't ever back down."
Kristin Nelson, 2001-04, Libero
The only libero All-American in school history, Nelson was arguably UCSB's best-ever passers. The native of Manhattan Beach, Calif. had 1,711 career digs - almost 100 more than anyone else - and was an All-West Region pick in 2004, the same year she was named to the All-Big West First Team. Nelson is third all-time in single-game history with 40 digs (twice) and won three Big West titles in her tenure as a Gaucho.
"She made a complete impact in her first year and had the biggest impact of any libero here at UCSB," Gregory said. "She was able to pass to more of the court and helped us gain more victories because of it. Her senior year, she was the glue that held us together."
Brooke Niles, 1999-2002, Setter
There are less than five players in school history who immediately come to mind when asked to name a Gaucho who could do everything on the floor. Niles is one of them. An All-American as a setter in 2002, she led the team to a 30-3 mark and a perfect 18-0 record in the Big West. That season she was also an All-West Region selection and a First Team All-Big West pick. The Big West Freshman of the Year, Niles was also a Second Team pick and Honorable Mention choice in her time at UCSB. Despite starring at more than one position in her career, she is seventh all-time in assists, eighth all-time in digs and her 1,437 assists in 2002 are seventh all-time in a single season.
"She started at every position you could except for middle blocker," Gregory said. "She was clearly the best all-around player of the decade and one of the best ever to wear a Gaucho uniform. She had the best work ethic and her competitive spirit was unmatched."
Olivia Waldowski, 2003-06, Middle Blocker
Her career hitting percentage of .366 is still tops in school history and in her career, Olivia was well-decorated. She was an All-American in 2006, was twice an All-West Region pick, twice an All-Big West First Team pick and was the conference's Freshman of the Year. Her 419 total blocks are fourth in school history and she is the only player in this decade to rank in the school's top-10 in service aces in a single season.
"She was a great offensive player that loved the game and played and practiced with one of the best passions for the game," Gregory said. "She had one of the best serves in the game. Teams feared her serve. She played every point like it was her last."