Bulls ready to improve

Coming off of one of USF volleyball’s best seasons in recent years, the team will rely on its many returning players this year in its attempt to repeat — or beat — last season’s success.

After placing third in the Big East tournament  last season, the Bulls will return 12 letterwinners from their 2007 team, which went 19-10.

“When you return 12 players that are familiar with your system, have been in it for at least a year, the expectations are definitely raised,” USF coach Claire Lessinger said.

Last year’s lone senior, Kristina Fabris, also happened to be one of the Bulls’ biggest scorers. Now that she is playing professionally in Finland, it will be crucial for the Bulls to fill the void she left beind. With so many return players, the Bulls are not lacking in leadership, however.

“All of the girls help push each other. Every day on the court, off the court, and in the classroom,” Lessinger said. “And with the loss of Kristina, who brought so many intangibles to the game, we’re asking everyone to step up.”

This season the Bulls will use last season’s success as a stepping stone for this season. They will look to players like Alli Arbogast, an outside hitter who made a name for herself in the Big East in 2007. She led the Bulls with 171 blocks, and looks primed to elevate her play along with the rest of the team.

“With Alli coming off what I think was a breakout sophomore year is big,” Lessinger said. “Improving her offensive stats, and things that will make her a more balanced player will help the team a lot.”

Also key to this season’s success will be Marcela Gurgel, another junior outside hitter coming off of a big season as a sophomore.

She earned her second straight, first-team All-Big East selection in last season.  She opened the 2007 season with four straight double-doubles and finished it with 14 overall.

“Marcela is one of our highlight players,” Lessinger said. “She is a big one for us. She is going to carry a lot of responsibilities for our team.”

Gurgel said she feels confident about the upcoming season.

“I think we are set up to be a really good team this year,” she said. “We know what we have to do, and now it’s up to us to go out and do it.”

Making her presence known for the Bulls as one of only three seniors on the team is Stephanie Augustavo. She has been credited by Lessinger with being one of the smartest players on the court, taking on the defensive specialist — or libero — position on the team, and is a top-notch defensive player.

She has started the last 58 matches for the Bulls at the libero position, and led the team with 423 digs in 2007. The Bulls will look to her for a big senior year, cementing the team’s defensive play.

“Augy (Augustavo) is a great player,” Lessinger said. “She is one of the smartest volleyball players and one of the hardest workers on and off the court. She will be big for us this season.”

USF has high hopes for the 2008 season — the squad brings plenty of experience with its returners.

The Bulls’ schedule boasts five teams from last year’s NCAA tournament,  opening Big East play at home.

“I think our schedule is tough, but I think the team will do very well against it,” Lessinger said.

Gurgel said the team is focused on one main goal.

“We want to win,” she said. “Winning the Big East is tops for us.”