Aiming for a Big East title

After earning a 19-10 record and finishing third in the Big East, the South Florida volleyball team had great expectations coming into this season. The Oracle had a chance to sit down with coach Claire Lessinger to see how the season is coming along.

Oracle: How has the season been going for you guys?
Lessinger: We’ve been playing against tough competition. We just returned from Alabama, who’s been in the NCAA tournament the last three years. We are 5-5, which is a bit disappointing, so we’ve been soul-searching a bit. It’d be easier to swallow if we were getting hammered by these teams, but we are competing well. We’ve had two long weekends on the road so we are happy to be returning home to our fans. We are excited for the games this weekend.

O: What do you say to your team after all those close
L: I think it’s easy to talk to them because of how close we’ve been in those games. It’d be much tougher to motivate them if we were getting destroyed by these teams. It’s kind of like golf. If you’re not a good golfer, you have a few good swings and some good putts and it keeps you coming back. We have so much to be proud of for how we are

O: Do you think having so much success last year put pressure on this team?
L: Success results in expectations. This group was very aware of that. They have expectations, but that’s what you want. We’ve been struggling to deal with that, and I think it’s grounded us a bit. We’ve had a major wake-up call. But I’d rather have that wake-up call now than midseason and in conference play. I truly believe we’ve gotten better with these games, and we are going into this weekend ready to
bounce back.

O: What will it take to go to that next step — perhaps a Big East Championship?
L: We are really close, talent-wise. We need to have players that want pressure and want to work under pressure. We’ve had the opportunity to work with some great kids. The potential is their upside. We are trying to train some intrinsic things right now — on being a competitor and a clutch player.

O: What are the strengths of this team?
L: Our size is a huge asset. We have the ability to run two different types of offense, either with one or two setters on the floor. We’re coming off a year where we were one of the top five blocking teams in the country, so we are very physical. Marcela Gurgel has been great for us. We have a lot of role-players to surround her, but we are struggling in that area with consistency. Our team understands where we need to get better and I’m confident they will.

O: How tough do you think the Big East will be this year?
L: Right now everyone is playing tough competition, which is what our conference needs to be doing. It will be another battle. Normally, the top three programs have been dominant, but I think there is more parity now. It’s going to be anyone’s show this year, so we need to prepare every day for each opponent.

O: What are the expectations for this team this year?
L: We had team meetings recently with each individual. My last question was whether or not they believe that the team goals we set this year are reachable. Every single one of them said yes, and that is huge. Even though we have five losses right now, every single player believes that we have a chance to reach
those goals.

O: What are those goals you guys set?
L: I think we need to win a Big East championship. It won’t be easy, but we’ve shown that we can compete with the best teams in the country. If we can compete, we can win. We have to strive with a championship mentality every day, and if we do that, we can be champions.