Santa Barbara coach Lindsey Gottlieb doesn’t want to call this a rebuilding year for her Gauchos.
“I like to call it more of a reinvention,” Gottlieb said.
Following her first season as the head coach – one in which UCSB again won the Big West title and reached the NCAA field, Gottlieb saw the graduation of four starters and another key senior who had helped to make her debut such a success.
More than 60 percent of the team’s scoring went with them.
“They represent a ton of minutes and a ton of points for us,” Gottlieb said. “But we started talking last spring about who would step up and keep up the tradition here.”
Change has come in many ways, except one. UCSB is picked to win its third straight conference title.
Gottlieb said this year’s team – in addition to being young and a little inexperienced – is faster, more athletic and more versatile.
“But it’s definitely a work in progress,” Gottlieb said.
Senior guard/forward Jordan Franey is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder (8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Franey has “that senior look in her eye that says ‘I get it and I’m not going to waste one second’,” Gottlieb said.
The most exciting newcomer may be transfer Mekia Valentine, who came to Santa Barbara from Wake Forest, where she was a member of the ACC All-Rookie team. Valentine collected 94 blocks in two seasons with the Demon Deacons.
“She is an ACC-level athlete,” Gottlieb said. “She is one of the things that is really going to make us different. She can run, she’s mobile.”
Sophomore Emily Johnson takes over a point guard, making that bit lead from freshman to sophomore.
Freshman forward Sweets Underwood from Compton could play an early role, as could guard Bree Richardson, the daughter of former NBA player Pooh Richardson.
“We have far more depth than we had last year,” Gottlieb said. “It’s such a fun group to coach because we are really different. It feels fresh and new. These kids are really invested in upholding the tradition here, but they want to earn it themselves.”
As for the head coach, also making her jump from the freshman to sophomore year of her coaching career, Gottlieb said she is feeling settled.
“Over the summer, I was in 12 cities in 22 days recruiting and when the plane landed in Santa Barbara, I thought, ‘I’m home.’ It felt like home,” Gottlieb said. “Finally the whirlwind has slowed down. I can’t believe how much more we can breathe than last year.”