There is one thing the volleyball team lost last season and wants to get back this season: respect.
The tradition that was established by the success of past teams took a hit over the last two seasons, but this year’s squad is looking to bring back the quality of play on the court.
Last season was a tough one for coach Claire Lessinger, along with junior Kristina Fabris and senior Johari Williams. Despite Williams and Fabris playing through injuries the entire season, the Bulls ended with a 4-24 record and had only one win in conference play.
Williams and Fabris felt responsible for how poorly the team played last season and have tried to forget all the bad things that occurred. Lessinger took time during the off-season to talk to the star tandem individually to help them bounce back.
“I had a lot of one-on-one with each athlete, and also team time to help them find the love for the game again,” Lessinger said, “because losing beats you up, and the confidence and morale was gone, and we didn’t know how to find it.”
A trip overseas to play against international competition not only brought the love of the game back to Fabris and Williams, but it also put the fun back into being on the court.
“I think the trip over the summer was very beneficial for me and Johari because we were having fun and playing volleyball,” Fabris said. “We realized that we were both perfectionists, and even if we scored a point, we felt we could do better. Now, if we do make an error, it’s OK and we’ll get the next ball instead of breaking each other down.”
Fabris is beginning her third season with the Bulls and started every game in her first two seasons. She battled shin splints during the 2005 season, which created stress fractures that made it even harder to play.
“The losses were extremely tough to deal with last season and brought down the karma of the team,” Fabris said. “But the biggest frustration was everyone having to deal with their injuries and not being able to practice to be ready to play.”
Williams noticed how the international talent plays the game with more of a laid-back style. She has made it a point to implement that in her own game this season.
“My teammates were just having fun on the court while playing volleyball and not getting upset,” Williams said. “So I have tried to bring that kind of attitude back to our team for this season.”
Lessinger believes this team has finally turned the corner and is on the right track to becoming a force in the Big East Conference. She knew when she took over the program that the team was three years away from getting back on track.
“I go to bed every night feeling very confident, which hasn’t happened a lot since we took over this program,” Lessinger said. “The talent that we have, we are better and we have players that want it more.”
Lessinger has challenged her team not only individually, but also with the scheduling of non-conference opponents. USF will face Florida, which ended the 2005 season ranked No. 3, and Florida A&M University, which made the NCAA Tournament in 2005.
Along with conference play in the Big East, Lessinger believes this schedule will prove how good this team can be. She is using this schedule to show her players she believes in their talent and to show teams USF isn’t afraid to play anyone.
“We are picked to finish last in the conference, and that’s the way I want it,” Lessinger said. “Let’s look up the stairs and start stepping and start knocking some of these teams off and start gaining some respect.”