Different positions. Different roles. Different experiences.
Though it may seem as if seniors Nakia Williams, Stephanie Augustavo and Cynthia Danthon have little more in common than their passion for volleyball, the trio’s differences have helped strengthen the South Florida volleyball team.
In fact, Williams, Augustavo and Danthon have been part of the team’s turnaround over the past few years.
Williams and Augustavo came to USF four years ago. When the pair arrived, the Bulls were predicted to finish last in the Big East Conference.
Danthon came to USF two years ago as a junior college transfer. During this time, the three players led the Bulls to three consecutive Big East tournament appearances.
As their collegiate careers come to a close, coach Claire Lessinger reflected on a senior class that made the Bulls a team on the rise in the Big East.
“Our senior class this year is so special,” Lessinger said. “Each player is so different and their leadership styles have been a big part of this team.”
When it comes to empowering the team and getting players motivated, Lessinger said she looks no further than Williams.
“Nakia is such an emotional presence with her personality and her physical ability,” she said. “She is an icebreaker with what she brings to the court and how she gets the team to respond to her.”
Her experience with the team seemed to help Williams connect with her family.
“Nakia has grown up so much since she came to USF,” her mother Stephanie said. “The special thing about the last four years is that she has opened up to us. She talks to us about a variety of subject such as volleyball, her classes, and her plans for the future.”
Williams came to USF from Bowie, Md. She played club ball for the Metro American Juniors and was named second team All-State from 2002-2004. She decided to come to USF for a number of reasons.
“When I came to visit, I really enjoyed being around the team,” Williams said. “I could tell that they had good chemistry and they all got along with each other. I was impressed with the prestige of the coaching staff as well.”
When Williams started high school, her parents wanted her to participate in an after-school sport, she said, leading her to volleyball.
“I played volleyball in junior high school and I asked Nakia what she thought about playing volleyball,” she said. “It was a great decision because she brought a lot of size and energy to the team. As time went on, she came to love playing the sport.”
The ‘silent leader’
One of the most decorated seniors that will the Bulls this season is Augustavo, but Lessinger said she’s not the type to rub it in your face, or tell another player how to do her job.
Instead, Augustavo — known as “Augy” by friends — prefers to lead by example.
“Augy is more of a silent leader,” Lessinger said. “She makes sure that her actions speak for themselves and she gets in there and takes care of business. She is very intelligent on the court, and her defense has been phenomenal.”
Last season, Augustavo set a career record for digs (1,038), ranking her eighth in the Big East with 3.92 digs per game.
She came to USF from Shoreline, Wash. Augustavo was an All-American coming out of high school, and said she chose the University because she felt wanted here and thought it would be a good experience to play in the Sunshine State.
“I came and visited here after Claire recruited me at national tournaments,” Augustavo said. “I thought it would be unique to play for a program here in the state of Florida. I wanted to come here and make an impact on the program.”
Graduating from USF means leaving more than the team behind, Augustavo said. She’s also leaving all her hard work.
“I love the game so much and I’ve been going at it with everything I have over the past four years,” she said.
Augustavo traveled across the country to join the Bulls, but Danthon traveled across the world, originally hailing from Montelimar, France.
Beyond her native country, Danthon stands out because she brings brute force to the Bulls’ lineup, providing a physical presence on the court, Lessinger said.
“Cynthia has such a physical game,” she said. “She can pound the ball but helps us the most with her passing and defense. She has a fun-loving personality that the girls love. Cynthia is a player that everyone loves to be around.”
Danthon attended Colby Community College in Kansas before making her way to Tampa. She played club ball in France before moving to the United States.
She said a couple factors helped her to choose South Florida.
“I came to USF because I liked the team here,” Danthon said. “I could tell that they had a lot of fun. I was also impressed with the coaching staff.”
Danthon said it was hard to leave her home country.
“I love playing volleyball,” Danthon said. “I left my family and friends in France because I wanted to have an opportunity to play volleyball in the United States. I believe that coming here has helped me as a player and as a person.”
Danthon, however, missed most of the season with a foot injury before returning to the lineup Oct. 30 against Rutgers.
A passion for playing
Something the trio doesn’t lack is drive.
“I love the dynamics of volleyball being a team sport,” Williams said. “I get so excited when I, or one of my teammates, get a kill during a match.”
Junior Marcela Gurgel has played with the seniors for the past three years. She said it’s going to be difficult to lose them.
“This senior class is so special,” Gurgel said. “I have nothing but good things to say about them. These seniors have really helped USF get the program going into the right direction.”
Long after Augustavo, Williams and Danthon exit the Sun Dome Corral, Lessinger said she believes they will continue to influence USF volleyball.
“Despite the differences in the three of them, they have all left their mark on the program,” she said. “It has been an honor to coach them.”