It wasn’t a hard decision for USF volleyball’s new coach to make, even though it involves a move across the country.
And why not? It is, after all, a homecoming for Jolene Shepardson.
For the Tampa native and USF alumna, leaving San Jose State, where she had been the coach since 2014, to take the Bulls’ job was an easy decision.
“I love being back and love being a Bull,” Shepardson said. “I had an incredible experience as a student-athlete. I want to do that for these young women here, and so I couldn’t be more happy to be back home.”
Things have changed at USF since the last time Shepardson was a Bull — though, for the better.
“Oh, it’s wonderful. A lot of good movement, both on campus and in the athletic department,” Shepardson said. “A lot of great resources for our student-athletes that are incredible. We have everything that we need and we’re just going to get better and better.
“When I was here, it was wonderful, but now, there’s even more awesome assets to this program.”
Shepardson was a member of the last USF team to win a conference championship as well as make the NCAA Tournament (2002). She was second on the team with 416 kills, 35 aces and 377 digs on the way to a second-round appearance after defeating FSU in straight sets.
Prior to playing her final two collegiate seasons at USF, she was a part of a Division II national championship team at Tampa and was Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Tampa Prep.
Since Shepardson graduated, the Bulls have made only one postseason appearance, falling in five sets to Georgia Tech in the first round of the 2018 National Invitational Volleyball Championship.
But she has a knack for turning programs around. Shepardson turned San Jose State from a four-win team into one that won 17 matches three seasons into her tenure. The Spartans’ back-to-back winning seasons in 2017 and 2018 were the program’s first since 2001.
Prior to San Jose State, she turned a zero-win Cal State Bakersfield team into one that won 21 matches in her third season.
Now, her alma mater is Shepardson’s next fixer-upper project.
“Oh, it’s coming back. It’s coming back with a full vengeance,” Shepardson said. “I really have a lot of pride in this program, and I want to see it excel. I’ve watched it over the years, and I can’t wait to get in the gym to help these young women be the best student-athletes they can be.
“You’ve got to build up the culture with the student-athletes and really get to know them and help get them all in so they put in a great effort both mentally and physically … and then once we build up the culture, they’re going to have as much pride as I did as a student-athlete and they’re going to do it themselves — they’re going to perform and they’re going to love being a Bull.”
Good, local recruiting will also be a pillar of Shepardson’s team.
“I’ll go up and down the state, to be honest. I have a lot of good connections,” Shepardson said. “We’d love to get the local talent, and I think being familiar with them and having a good reputation here in Florida and just having a lot of good relationships I think will help us get those local student-athletes to stick around in Tampa.”
But for now, being back at USF is a nice trip down memory lane for the Bulls’ new coach.
“I’m ecstatic,” Shepardson said. “I get teary eyed driving around campus. It’s a wonderful experience — wonderful opportunity back here in Tampa.”