It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Yeah, yeah. Everyone knows that’s a Christmas song.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for sports.
On the professional side of things, the NFL season is almost halfway over. The World Series is in full swing. The NBA and NHL seasons are underway. And there is soccer aplenty on your television — whether your preferred league is MLS or something overseas.
Back home at USF, it’s the best time of year, too. Not only is it the peak of fall sports — the teams themselves are also doing quite well.
Football is 7-0 for the second-straight season. And, though they may have taken years off your life getting to that point, the Bulls are a young and emerging team that should compete for AAC championships for years to come, if not even this year.
The other football
The regular season for USF soccer is winding down, but the drama only stands to heighten from here.
The women’s team needs either a win or a draw in its final regular season game on Friday and the regular season title and home-field for the AAC tournament is USF’s. The Bulls play UCF in that game — the team they defeated in the AAC tournament title game last season, when the Knights were the regular season champion. A rivalry and a rematch for all the marbles. Would you really want it any other way?
After a disappointing start to the men’s soccer season, which saw the Bulls scoreless through three games and winless through four, coach Bob Butehorn has his team on the verge of a postseason appearance for the first time since 2016.
Butehorn, as well as his team, deserves a ton of credit for working through an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule and rebounding when the games were arguably more important anyway. USF sits three points out of first place in the AAC with two more conference games remaining — Saturday at Cincinnati and Nov. 2 versus Memphis.
It’s hard to imagine potentially hosting the AAC tournament after all those woes in August, but it’s possible.
Volleyball’s bounceback season
Volleyball has had a rough stretch — losing four of its last five before gutting out a tough win at ECU on Sunday behind 19 kills from junior Jac’cara Walker. But the Bulls have already surpassed their overall win total from last season by three and are in a three-way tie for sixth in the AAC. Everything considered, volleyball has had a solid season. And it’s not over yet — the Bulls still have nine more matches left this season. There’s plenty of time to make a run during these crucial AAC matchups.
“South Florida is good at golf” and other headlines your northern friends won’t be surprised to see
Men’s golf just posted back-to-back second place finishes and has finished no worse than sixth place in any tournament this season. Newcomer Ryoto Furuya has been impressive — recording four-straight top-25 finishes to begin his USF career.
Women’s golf just set new low round and low round versus par records in a second place finish at the FIU Pat Bradley Invitational this week. Senior Natalia Villavicencio earned her first individual title while at USF in the process, as well.
Apparently golf is not a year-round sport in other parts of the country, so USF will have to put its seasons on hold until the spring. But there’s certainly a lot to be optimistic about there.
They’re playing basketball
Basketball season is about to start. There’s a lot to be excited for as our attention moves to the hardwood during the winter months.
The women’s team is set to be a force to reckon with as usual. Senior Kitija Laksa is poised to break the program’s all-time scoring record this season. She’ll need more than 600 points to do so, but Laksa scored over 700 points last season and more than 600 during her sophomore season. The ball should find her hands more often than not in 2018-19 as well.
Joining a cast of just four upperclassmen — Laksa, redshirt senior Laura Ferreira and juniors Alyssa Rader and Tamara Henshaw — are six freshmen. While a ton of youth can seem scary, once Laksa and Ferreira move on after this season and Rader and Henshaw move on after next, these freshman will be upperclassmen that will boast plenty of experience to help make sure coach Jose Fernandez’s team doesn’t miss a beat.
A member of that freshman class, Janeta Rozentale, hails from the town of Dobeles, Latvia, which is 50 miles down the road from Laksa’s hometown of Riga. Rozentale averaged a double-double with her former club, TTT Riga Juniores, during the 2017-18 season.
Considering the Bulls lost a player who collected an AAC-best 18 double-doubles last season in Maria Jespersen, if Rozentale can translate that success to the NCAA, the Yuengling Center could be an electric place this season.
As far as the other team that calls the Yuengling Center home, the men’s basketball team enters its second season under coach Brian Gregory. When the Bulls hit the court Tuesday night for an exhibition game against the crosstown UT Spartans, they’ll do so with little expectations from the national media.
And that’s ok.
Gregory inherited a program that was a mess for nearly two decades and subsequently tore it down. Nobody who is presently a member of the men’s basketball team, whether staff or player, was at USF 16 months ago.
The players that are here, including last year’s leading returning scorer David Collins, all want to be here. They want to be a part of the rebuilding process that Gregory has undertaken. How often do you see a coach come into a place and wind up with a team that is entirely their own in the second year?
As mentioned, the Bulls won’t be catching national press. They may only win 12 or 13 games, perhaps with a best-case scenario five wins during AAC play. But that’d be an improvement on last season and a monumental improvement on the final pre-Gregory season of 2016-17, which saw USF win a single conference game against an equally hapless ECU team.
It’s cliche to say, but trust the process when it comes to USF men’s basketball. Gregory is the guy for this job.
So, yeah. There’s a lot going on right now. There are a ton of sports to watch, both nationally and locally at USF.
Keep your ice-skating rinks and snowglobes.
The most wonderful time of the year is right now — late October and early November.