Andi Kreiling of UCSB tips over the block of North Florida's Kyla Solis. Kreiling led the Gauchos with 12 kills out of the middle. (Lily Chubb / Noozhawk photo)

The middle was the place to go for the UCSB women’s volleyball team in the finale of the season-opening Thunderdome Classic.

Andi Kreiling and Grace Wuischpard were nearly unstoppable in the middle attack for the Gauchos, racking up a combined 16 kills on 19 attacks in a 25-18, 25-15, 25-23 sweep over North Florida. 

The win completed a 3-0 match record and a perfect 9-0 run in sets in Matt Jones’ debut as head coach of the Gauchos.

Briana McKnight explodes off the floor to hit the ball for UCSB. (Lily Chubb / Noozhawk photo)

Kreiling, a 6-foot-3 junior transfer from Arizona State, led the way in the middle with 12 kills on 15 swings and no errors for a sparking .800 hitting percentage. Wuischpard, a 6-2 sophomore from Danville, hit 1.000, going 4 for 4.

“I usually like to talk about team, so we’re going to try and do that but it’s really hard to ignore 12 for 15 with no errors,” said Jones in the post-game press conference.  “That’s a pretty special day from Andi. But it’s really about the team executing as a group.”

Kreiling connected with both setters, junior Grace McIntosh and freshman Milan Rex.

“Andi, I always feel comfortable finding even if I’m 10 feet from the net,” said McIntosh. “She’s such a big window. I think in any match-up with Andi I can find her and she’ll find a way to score.”

She was the only Gaucho in double figures with 14 points

Kreiling praised the setting of McIntosh, who ran the team’s 6-2 offense with Rex.

“I’ve been here since Spring and ever since spring I’ve never had a setter that could find me from any direction,” said Kreiling. “It’s so nice to have her as a setter, and I couldn’t be happier with her as my setter.”

Jones was pleased how the team followed the scouting report on North Florida.

“We thought there was something about the way they defended the middle,” he said. “We felt like they were a little late getting hands over, and we go really fast in the middle. We kind of ID’d one of the two middles and we thought running our middle a lot was going to be successful.

“As a coach, you can’t imagine going 12 for 15 from one of your middles, and Wuisch went 4 for 4, so the scouting report works.”

He was quick to note that the production was a credit to the team’s passing. The Gauchos committed just two errors on serve receptions. Michelle Ohwobete led the team with 19 passes, Briana McKnight had 13 and Macall Peed added 10 to go with a match-high 19 digs. Milan recorded 16 assists and McIntosh dished out 13.

“It’s a team effort because anyone who know volleyball knows it starts with a pass,” said Jones. “You can’t run the middle without the pass.

“T-Mac and Milan were really mature about (running the middle). Sometimes it doesn’t have to be fancy. The setter can make it a lot of fun mixing it, throwing the ball all over the gym, do fancy things. But, at the end of the day, we have a scouting report for a reason and we clearly followed it to a T. I think that’s why we were able to get out of there in three sets.”

Jacksonville-based North Florida, which went 1-2 in the tournament, was led by outside hitters Mahalia White and Kailey McKnight with nine and seven kills, respectively.

The Osprey hit .195 as a team while the Gauchos hit .373.

Kreiling and Peed were named to the all-tournament team and Ohwobete was named the MVP.

A fired-up Macall Peed (15) points to the crowd as her Gaucho teammates celebrate after winning a rally. (Lily Chubb / Noozhawk photo).

After a perfect start to the season at the Thunderdome, the Gauchos hit the road for the next four weekends. They play in the San Diego State, Utah and Iowa State tournaments before opening Big West play at San Diego State and Long Beach State on Sept. 22 and 23.

McIntosh and Kreiling agreed the 3-0 start is a good building block to a positive season.

“I think in comparison to previous seasons, we have to start off on the strongest foot,” said McIntosh. “For us, it’s just good groundwork and from here we can just build up. Winning at home always feels good, we feel comfortable in our gym, but it’s going to a big test when we go on the road. We play some strong teams.”

Kreiling said winning at home is always special, and starting with three victorious is important.

“I feel a sense of pride when I come to the T-Dome and defend this court. It means everything to me and, like Grace said, it’s setting the groundwork for later on.

“The end game is to make the (NCAA) tournament, so starting this strong is putting the right foot forward.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.