With six new freshmen joining the USF volleyball team this season, one might think the entire roster and starting lineup would look completely different, that the team would have a new look when heading to the Big East for a season that has its share of obstacles.
Though the team has five very highly rated recruits – one was an All-American in high school – they have the talent that second-year coach Claire Lessinger was seeking in her recruits, and it seems more like they have been at USF for years instead of just mere months.
Freshmen Stephanie Augustavo, Nakia Williams, Stephanie Bradley, Kate Verhoff and Ashley McDowell round out the class of 2005, and Lessigner couldn’t be more thrilled to have them.
“Well, they all serve different roles,” said Lessigner, who went 9-20 last season. “It’s interesting right now because they are all getting acclimated and adjusted (to being on the team.) We’ve got talent for sure. And as they get more comfortable and slide into a niche with the team, any one of them can surprise you.”
Lessigner is excited to return most of her team and to not lose any seniors or starters from last season. But on top of Kristina Fabris returning, who was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2004, the new recruits should add much-needed depth to a very young team.
But Lessigner doesn’t like to predict what the freshmen have up their sleeves.
“You just never know what a freshman is capable of,” said Lessinger, who played for the University of Florida from 1993-97. “I don’t like to talk about individual (players), but the team is working hard overall and that’s all I ask of them.”
They should be working hard. Augustavo was an All-American player, Bradley was named to Team Florida as a junior and senior, Verhoff was Miss Volleyball in her home state of Ohio, while Williams and McDowell will try to prove they can be just as tough as middle blockers.
But players such as senior Kelsi Andrew-Wasylik and sophomore Michelle Stalbaum know what it’s like to go into a season so subservient on fresh faces.
“Last year, (the team) depended a lot on the freshman. I was one of them,” said Stalbaum, who, in 29 games, had 319 kills and 279 digs. “And it’s basically the same thing this year, and now we are just going to be way more competitive. It makes us better for games because they are just a good group of girls.”
Though her senior counterpart thinks they are moving at a phenomenal rate for being just freshman, Andrew-Wasylik also thinks the new talent is ready is for their first game: an exhibition match with the University of Tampa on Wednesday.
“They have adapted really quickly to our style of volleyball, to the style of college play,” Andrew-Wasylik said. “But even still, we don’t know what the starting lineup will be until the first game. Everyone is fighting their way to earn a spot and that’s what has kept practices so intense.”