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Maintaining progress

Senior Kristina Fabris helped lead the Bulls to a seventh place finish in the Big East after the Bulls were slated to finish last in the conference. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

With six more conference wins last season than in 2005, the volleyball team will have a difficult time replicating their improvement this season.

USF was expected to finish near the bottom of the Big East Conference a year ago, but a surprising 7-7 record in conference play means the Bulls won’t sneak up on anyone in 2007.

The Bulls are starting their 2007 campaign the way they finished offseason, ranked seventh in the Big East. Coach Claire Lessinger hopes to erase their preseason ranking and show the conference they are to be feared.

“Our goal is to work our way up that ladder,” said Lessinger. “And take out some of those teams that have consistently finished ahead of us.”

Last season the Bulls made it to the Big East Tournament with a key home win over Villanova. They beat the Wildcats, who were ranked directly underneath USF, 3-0 to clinch a tournament berth – something they didn’t accomplish in 2005.

“That win got us to Cincinnati last year,” said Lessinger. “It gave us an opportunity to make it to the Big East Conference Tournament and gain experience, which left our players hungry to make it back there this year.” ???????

Returning to the tournament might be a slightly larger task this year, however. The Bulls are scheduled to play against five teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year: Florida A & M, Long Island and the Big East’s Louisville, St. John’s and Notre Dame. None of those five teams made it past the second round, but the fact that they were given a chance to compete for the national championship makes each team a bull’s-eye for USF.

USF played four of those five teams last season and lost to all except Long Island. It looks to rebound this year and get back some of those losses to put themselves in position to take the Big East. The Bulls have already begun their push as they passed 11th-ranked Notre Dame in the preseason polls.

The Bulls hope to use their experience and depth to carry them this year. USF has eight

letter-winners back.

Although losing three starters from 2006, USF will not have a lack of leadership with middle blocker Kristina Fabris on the court. Fabris earned Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2004. She has been an impact player since then, ranking 10th in kills and eighth in block assists all-time at USF.

“We have so much depth this year and that’s a great thing,” Farbris said. “We’re ranked seventh now but that’s just preseason. We’re hoping to do bigger and better things.”