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Killing the sophomore slump

Kristina Fabris calmly strode up to the net, rose gracefully off the floor and slapped another screamer past a helpless opponent. It’s a sight that’s becoming routine on the USF volleyball court.

“Volleyball takes up most of my time, so that’s what I do,” the sophomore said. “But I love it. I love every second of it.”

The Bulls love the fact that she’s back, helping lead a young squad in their first year in the Big East Conference.

Truth be told, she almost didn’t make it here.

Being from Canada, she could have easily gone to a school much closer to home to develop her skills, but decided the much warmer Florida was the place for her.

“I never thought that I would get a scholarship or come down to Florida for it. I never thought of that at all,” said Fabris, who only started seriously playing competitive volleyball her junior year of high school.

Now she just laughs at what has happened.

“Yeah. It kind of worked out very well,” she said.

Growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, Fabris played many sports. They came naturally for her. From gymnastics to flag football, she was always on the field, on the court or in a gym. As the middle child in a family of athletes, Fabris was always at sporting events and took to volleyball as a freshman in high school.

“I just played for fun,” she said. “A lot of my friends played on the high school team with me. So it was just something to do in the fall.”

Volleyball stuck with Fabris. She began to practice daily and started playing with a club team. Her skills eventually landed her a spot in USF’s huddle.

Coach Claire Lessinger, Fabris’ main draw to USF, knew exactly what kind of player she was getting even before Fabris put on the green and gold for the first time.

“She’s somewhat of a raw athlete,” Lessinger said, “but she’s talented at the same time, and so the combination of the two is making her continue to get better at a rapid pace.”

Her skills developed so quickly that she landed a spot on the Canadian Junior National Team in 2004 and on Canada’s Team Ontario in 2005. One of 12 players from her province, she competed in the Canada Summer Games this past August.

“It was incredible,” Fabris said with a smile. “It was something that we strived for and something that we put so much sweat and work into it.”

The work definitely paid off. Her team won the gold medal.

“It’s good bragging rights,” she laughed. “Everything paid off.”

Back in Florida, she made a pretty good first impression. With every diving save, she earned more respect from her teammates. With every spike, she set herself apart from the rest of the Big East pack. With every motivational word to her teammates, she gains their trust.

She is growing into her leadership role already and is only a sophomore.

“She is in a role this year that is asking a lot of her and has more pressure on her as being our best offensive tool,” junior teammate Ashley Reavis said. “She knows the game very well and her passion is very contagious.”

Lessinger, in her second year as coach, agrees.

“Her position is the same but she’s more of a go-to player this year. We’ve asked her to step up in some big situations and be more of the pressure player at the end of matches, wanting the ball and that sort of thing.”

Fabris’ dedication is undeniable. Her punishing offensive assault and torrid defensive attack are tributes to how hard she works at her game all year long.

“Her work ethic is impeccable. She’s never satisfied with herself,” Lessinger said. “There are days when you wish she really knew how well she played, but she still wants to get better.”

The 5-foot-11 Canadian admits she puts all the pressure on herself.

“I am always my toughest critic,” Fabris said. “I’m always demanding perfection from myself, so that will never change. I have never changed. I’m always striving to get better and better.”

Many freshmen playing collegiate volleyball don’t even get to sniff the court in most schools. But Fabris arrived on the scene in a big way last season as a first-year collegiate player. She was the only Bull to start all 29 matches and play in all 102 games. She was third on the team in kills per game with 3.06 and second on the squad with .71 blocks per contest. Her outstanding year led her to the Conference USA All-Freshman team; she was also named C-USA Freshman of the Year.

The pressure to duplicate that success mounts with each match.

“That was a huge honor,” Fabris said. “I didn’t expect it. It was something to make me strive for greater things now. It was tremendous. Quite an honor.”

Fabris and the Bulls fell short in the win column in their first tournament of the year, being swept clean at Michigan State. They played very steep competition and showed that they can play with anyone, keeping it close in most of their matches.

Fabris knows for the team to succeed, she and the rest of the girls have to step up their games.

“You can’t play as an individual within a team,” she said. “You have to play as a team to win.”