Dig the new coach

After spending the last five seasons as the assistant head coach, Claire Lessinger takes over the reigns as head coach of the USF women’s volleyball team for the 2004 season.

As luck would have it, her first test as the new head coach is against her alma mater, the Florida Gators. The Bulls travel to Gainesville today to take on No. 4 Florida at 7 p.m. It’s not going to be easy.

The Gators haven’t lost in 54 consecutive matches and have won 44 straight victories at home. But Lessinger said it didn’t affect the Bulls’ preparation.

“We train for Florida just like we train for any other opponent,” Lessinger said. “We’re two and a half weeks into it and we’re excited about seeing someone else across the net in a different color uniform. For our team to travel there and be in an ideal volleyball environment, it’s a wonderful way for a player to open the season.”

Lessinger comes from an extensive volleyball background that started locally at Clearwater Central Catholic. At Florida, she garnered the Best Defensive Specialist in the Country award from the Collegiate Volleyball Updates.

She takes over an inexperienced squad including five freshmen and no seniors. The hope is that an influx of youth will provide a spark for a team that finished 12-20 overall last season.

Lessinger said she likes what she has seen from her squad so far.

“I am overwhelmed with the work ethic this preseason,” she said. “(It’s) an ideal environment for a first-year head coach. The girls are like sponges. We have a very experienced staff; we all have a lot of neat ideas. We’re grasping our strengths and blending them into a coaching style that is going to be USF style for sure.”

Lessinger expects all of her athletes to contribute in different ways throughout the season.

“Match to match, opponent to opponent, we will field the group that gives us the best opportunity to win. It’s a battle every day in the gym,” she said. “There will be some mixing and matching that I think will be interesting and exciting at the same time.”

A part of the USF tradition for the past six seasons, Lessinger has had the opportunity to watch the program grow.

“I find it very fortunate for me to be in Tampa, to be in a place I love with people I love. Being a part of something that’s growing, the progress, I feed off that energy.”