Women's Volleyball 2018 Season Preview Pt. II: Middle Blockers

Annie Hasselmann and Nicole Omwanghe (Photo by JC Corliss)
Annie Hasselmann and Nicole Omwanghe (Photo by JC Corliss)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's volleyball team is less than 10 days away from opening its season at the Miami Invitational. The Gauchos will begin the year by taking on Cincinnati next Friday at 12:00 p.m. PT in the first of three matches out in Oxford, Ohio. To prepare for the upcoming season, we'll continue previewing the team by breaking down its four position units, taking a look today at the middles.

Part II: Middle Blockers

"We are looking forward to having much more experience and more depth at the middle position this year. Our middles know they can really impact our success this season as we get them more involved in the offense." – Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch

Rowan Ennis – Junior
This year's Gaucho squad will feature five players playing primarily at middle blocker, including three returners from last season. Among those returners is former All-Big West Freshman Team selection Rowan Ennis (Virginia Beach, Va., First Colonial HS).

During her lone full season in 2016, Ennis appeared in 21 matches. Originally a right side hitter, she went on to be ranked in the Big West's top-25 in both blocking (0.71 B/S, 20th) and hitting percentage (.228, 23rd) after converting to middle blocker halfway through the campaign. Unfortunately, she was unable to repeat her first-year success during her sophomore season, suffering a season-ending injury after competing in just eight matches.

Prior to the injury, Ennis' growth as a middle from year one to two was visible through her improved production. She nearly doubled her defensive output in her second year, posting a 1.20 blocks per set average that would have ranked second in the Big West had she played in enough matches to qualify. It took her 13 fewer contests to match her solo block tally of six from the previous year, as she cracked UCSB's single-match top-10 charts with three solo stifles against Yale and nine block assists against Pacific. For her career, she also has four double-digit kill efforts.

"Rowan is coming off sitting out last season with an injury and we are so glad to have her back. She is a great all-around player who is able to combine disciplined blocking with efficient hitting." – Lantagne Welch

Nicole Omwanghe – Sophomore
The Gauchos' lone All-Freshman honoree last year, Nicole Omwanghe (Claremont, Calif., Claremont HS) returns following a highly productive season which saw her lead the team in both blocks (83) and blocks per set (0.93) – both marks which ranked in the conference's top-five.

Omwanghe burst onto the scene as a true freshman, locking down a starting middle blocker spot for the majority of the year with her ability to produce on defense and offense. She finished the year with 142 kills (1.60 per set), reaching double-figures three times, and struck efficiently with a .237 hitting percentage that was the second-highest clip on the team. On three different occasions, she tallied seven or more blocks, setting a season-high with eight in five sets against Arkansas.

"Nicole has the potential to make a large impact on the court. She has shown signs that she is capable of dominating, so the key will be working hard to be able to do so consistently." – Lantagne Welch

Charlie Robinson – Sophomore
One of just four Gauchos to play in all 28 matches last season, Charlie Robinson (Pacific Palisades, Calif., Marymount HS) emerged as a solid contributor in her second year with the team. Her 101 sets played trailed only Emilia Petrachi (103), as she earned a start in each of the last 13 matches of the year.

Robinson's 1.67 kills per set ranked third on the team and were the most of any non-outside-hitter, while her 169 total kills and 215.5 points were second only to Lindsey Ruddins (526 and 581.5). That kill total more than tripled her output as a freshman. Her second-leading 62 blocks were also double what she had in 2016. After entering her sophomore season never having reached double-figure kills, she would do so six times in her last 20 matches, setting a career-high with 13 against Cal State Northridge. 

"Charlie really finished last season strong for us. She is one of our most consistent players. One of her strengths is that she can score both in front and behind the setter. She has the quickness to run fast, and she also has the versatility to play right side." – Lantagne Welch

Amanda Serex – Sophomore
Sophomore Amanda Serex (Fremont, Calif., St. Francis HS) appeared in 13 matches last year, starting in six straight matches from Sept. 8-29. She had her best performances of the season during that stretch, collecting eight blocks over a two-match span and going for four or more kills in five straight contests. Her season-high of seven kills came against Cleveland State on Sept. 16.

Once a .488 hitter as a senior at St. Francis High School, Serex would finish her freshman year with 34 kills (1.03 per set), 16 blocks (0.48) and a .212 hitting percentage. 

"Amanda is a harder worker with a good arm. She pays attention to the little things with her technique that you appreciate as a coach." – Lantagne Welch

Natalie Ballout – Freshman
A Bay Area prep standout, Natalie Ballout joined the Gauchos after a stellar career with Burlingame High School. The 6-0 middle averaged over 3.4 kills per set and hit at least .430 in both her junior and senior seasons, leading to Peninsula Bay League MVP accolades in 2017. She had a trio of 20+ kill performances for the Panthers, including a highlight-reel 25 kill, eight block outing against Notre Dame as a senior.

"Natalie is a very raw middle with a ton of upside. She is learning many things for the first time and it will be fun to see how quickly she can pick things up." – Lantagne Welch

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.

Season Preview Pt. I: Defensive Specialists/Liberos

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.