It’s a good thing for USF that Marcela Gurgel stuck with volleyball.
The Bulls’ senior outside hitter didn’t always play
volleyball, however. Growing up In Fortaleza, Brazil, she was a multi-sport athlete – swimmer, gymnast and dancer – until age 7, when started volleyball.
Then, at 13 years old, she decided to stop everything else and focus on volleyball, the sport she’s dominated at the Big East level for the Bulls. Gurgel has been named to All-Big East teams throughout her career and is leading the Bulls to a potential postseason run with a 13-6, 6-3 record.
Gurgel got plugged in with a club team in Fortaleza and spent five years with it, winning team MVP five times and leading them to a national championship in 2003.
“I was just really committed and I practiced a lot,” she said. “Volleyball was my life. I spent five hours a day in the gym.”
And sticking with that team helped lead her to the U.S. When she was 15, the club raised money to play a tournament in Texas, where a number of college coaches – including USF – saw her play. She said the opportunity to play for the Bulls excited her and she chose to come to Tampa.
“I just fell in love with the environment,” Gurgel said. “There were a few Brazilians on the team already and the weather is similar to where I’m from. I thought it would be easy to adapt.”
Gurgel, who sat out through a redshirt, made a big impact quickly. In her first match, against No. 5 Florida, she recorded a team-high eight kills. It sparked a big season.
That year, Gurgel was one of two Bulls to start all 29 matches and play in all 104 games. She was named first-team All-Big East and at one point had a streak of 21 straight matches with double-digit kills.
In the seasons since, Gurgel has been just as consistent – named twice more first-team All-Big East.
“The whole time she’s been here, night in and night out, we’ve asked her to hit that wood and be a star for us,” said USF coach Claire Lessinger. “She’s grown and matured because of all the pressure she’s had since the beginning.”
Gurgel is third on USF’s all-time kills list, trailing Nikki Richt (1,726) and USF assistant coach Michelle Collier (2,729). Collier played professionally in the international ranks and said Gurgel has the same potential.
“She could definitely play professionally if she would like to,” Collier said. “I know she is very focused on starting a job after she graduates, but she definitely has the talent and the opportunity to go play.”
Gurgel is studying to become a physical education teacher and has excelled in the classroom, being named to the Big East honor roll every year since she was a freshman.
Despite her success on the court, Gurgel could easily shift her attention to another aspect of the sport.
“I don’t really know how things are going to go once I’m done (at USF),” she said. “I have the desire to keep playing volleyball, but I also love what I’m studying to do. I absolutely love working with kids and teenagers so maybe I’d like to coach or teach. Whatever opportunity comes I’ll take.”
Though Gurgel may see other options besides volleyball, Lessinger said walking away isn’t always as easy as it may seem.
“I know she has a lot of passion for the sport, so I see her in a gym atmosphere in some way,” she said. “I sure don’t see her walking away from (volleyball). She might think she’ll be able to, but I think she’ll migrate right back to where she flourishes.”
Gurgel is basically like another coach, said junior Allie Boaz.
“She’s inspired me to give more to the team and be more supportive,” Boaz said. “She is just as much of a leader off the court as she is on. She works so hard to set a good example for everyone else. She’s kind of like our mom. We can always go to her if we’re ever having problems with anything.”
This season has been just as promising for Gurgel, who was tabbed Big East preseason player of the year. She leads the team, Lessinger said, and has 269 kills. The next best is Pamela Luiz with 167.
But Lessinger said if the talented senior can’t move on to a professional career, she’ll be fine where she ends up.
“She just loves the game. Her volleyball IQ is very high,” Lessinger said. “She could easily coach and run the floor out there for us based on what she knows. She’s right up there among the best players I’ve ever coached.”