There’s one word volleyball coach Claire Lessinger used to describe her emotions for the upcoming season, and it may shock some people: excited.
Lessinger hit the recruiting trail hard during the off-season, trying to add some much-needed size and depth to a team that finished 4-24. She brought in four recruits, including local talent Brittany Castelamare.
One of the major weaknesses for the Bulls last season was blocking, with a lack of size at the net. Lessinger took measures to improve that aspect, bringing in three players that have an average height of 6-foot-1.
“We absolutely had to get bigger at the net, and playing in the Big East, the average size is 6-2 or 6-3,” Lessinger said. “So our recruiting strategy was to bring in some size this season.”
Incoming freshman Alli Arbogast (6-foot-3) and Jarka Havlickova (6-foot-2) bring size on the offensive and defensive sides of the net. Arbogast will challenge for the middle blocker position and Havlickova joins Brazil transfer Marcela Gurgel (5-foot-11) at the outside hitter position.
The volleyball team struggled through its first season in the Big East and ended the season with little to build on. Despite the rough season, Lessinger has been impressed with the work ethic from many of her players.
“Our girls have committed to the off-season, including the strength and conditioning and with team bonding,” Lessinger said. “Last year left a bad taste in their mouths and they have committed to each other that this season is going to be different compared to last season.”
Lessinger believes with the players returning this season, along with the recruiting class, the pieces are in place to be successful. There is good leadership on the team and team chemistry is starting to meld together.
The Bulls will lean heavily on the experience of seniors Kristina Fabris and Johari Williams early in the season. Both players were major factors for the team last season and Lessinger is looking for big things out of her senior leaders.
“Those two players I can speak very highly about simply because of their athleticism on the court and their commitment to the program,” Lessinger said.
Williams and Fabris got an opportunity to travel oversees to Europe and play with the USA Athletes International this summer. Not only did the duo have time to bond, they also got to experience a different level of play internationally.
The Bulls come into this season with a roster full of versatile players and Lessinger believes that is an advantage. With multiple players able to play different positions, it makes it difficult for opposing teams to plan strategies.
“The players will come into this season vying for different positions, which opens up the competition,” Lessinger said. “I think that will also give the girls some confidence if they’re not playing good at one position one night that they can move to another position.”
Lessinger plans to put little goals in front of her team during the season to keep confidence high. It may be foolish to think the Bulls can win a national title, but staying above .500 and remaining competitive in the Big East are achievable goals.
“You have to set goals on a daily basis, and you can’t shoot for goals that are unattainable,” Lessinger said. “We have to take baby steps. That starts with building confidence for this team and making them realize that they are talented players.”