This is it.
For the volleyball team: two games, one more win, get in the conference tournament. It’s that simple.
Beat Louisville or Cincinnati, and a team that won just 13 games in the past two seasons will make the postseason.
How about a complete 180?
“We definitely turned it around,” junior Kristina Fabris said. “We have a lot more confidence, and we’re a lot better as well.”
This is not the same volleyball team that won just one conference game in 2005. This is a completely different team with a completely different outlook.
With a 12-13 record, it’s more than a turnaround. Third-year coach Claire Lessinger says the team is “on track” now. The Bulls are right where they want to be, and after signing four more recruits Wednesday, this team is still moving forward.
Despite switching to a tougher conference from Conference USA to the Big East, it was a step back. And that’s not exactly what Lessinger had in mind, nor what she needed. She’s in her final contract year, something she says doesn’t occupy her mind all the time. She claims the team’s visions are still larger. Lessinger not only wants to make the Big East Tournament, but also compete once the team gets there.
She makes one thing absolutely clear: Last year is forgettable by most, but it’s not a forgotten memory.
“I don’t like to forget about anything,” Lessinger said. “I think we need to move on, but not forget. That should be our driving force: Let’s remember where we were last season, let’s remember what people expected of us, and that’s not a whole lot.”
It’s true. Just like last season, not much was expected from the Bulls. This season, the team was picked to finish 13th out 15 teams in the Big East – and just eight games into the season, USF was 3-5 and still not looking so hot. Heck, the Bulls were 4-8 going into conference play.
They were about to sink back into that losing rut.
“When you lose as much as we did, you just get beat up,” Lessinger said. “The players who returned from last season and went through all that never want to go through that ever again.”
That must be true, because once they hit the Big East, the Bulls started cruising – including a four-game winning streak – and now have a 7-5 conference record. That’s good enough for seventh place in the Big East.
“I think we have fun playing again,” Fabris said. “Before, it was a chore to play and to train. We lost the love of the game. We got passion back.”
Winning will do that for you, but there’s more.
“We want to prove everyone wrong,” Fabris said.
Now that’s it: A passion, a fun team – a team that’s winning and starting to live up to the expectation of following many championship teams, such as the one in 2000 that made the NCAA Tournament or 2002’s C-USA champion Bulls.
It hasn’t been about handing out clichÃ©s or worrying about a coach’s contract. It’s been about respect, about standing up and not being pushed around anymore.
You have to respect that, even if the team falls one win short this weekend.
“Our goal was to make the conference tournament, and I think we would all be disappointed if we didn’t make the conference tournament, especially after how far we’ve come,” Fabris said. “I think we all know it was a major turnaround, and we’re proud of our accomplishments.”
Added Lessinger, “When you win just one conference match, and now that we’re sitting 7-5 and looking to make the tournament, that’s not a step … it’s a leap.”
Looks like more leaps will come, whether toward a ball or a net – or maybe even to the top of the conference. Either way, this team is it. It’s the best it can be, and that’s better than anyone, including yours truly, expected.
This turnaround should turn many opinions around.