After an offseason of transition and turmoil, the USF volleyball team may have found its defensive identity in its dramatic win over UCF, in the form of senior defensive specialist Claudia Cabrera.
Following a dominating performance against the Knights, when Cabrera set a career-high 28 digs, she will now take the show on the road as the team heads to Raleigh for the N.C. State Invitational this weekend.
Last year I always wanted to be the libero I mean, who wouldnt want to be the starting libero on the team? Cabrera said. I knew it would be a big time competition, because a lot of people were gunning for that role. I had to change some things even off the court. I had to know what to eat, how to be the leader of the team, both on and off the practice courts.
Following former libero Janice Riveras graduation after the 2011 campaign and the departure of former coach Claire Lessinger, the team needed a new defensive leader. As it turned out, the answer was already on the roster, in the form of the 5-foot-6 Naples native.
Obviously I had to adjust, because I had to go from coach Lessinger to coach Draper, Cabrera said. But (Draper) made it easier for us all, because if she wanted me to do something, shed be really clear about what she wanted and how she wanted it, so even though it was a challenge, coach Draper made it easier for me.
Draper credits her senior leader for taking on a larger responsibility, and says she fills the role of leader in every facet of the word.
She is an athlete that is tough as nails shes playing with a hand injury that looks horrible, swollen, black and blue, but shes just a really tough kid, Draper said. Shes just a great leader. She may be quiet, but she leads by example. Shes a very hard worker and a captain for us this year, and shes been the most consistent for us at that libero position, so its really been big for us.
Despite three years of experience, Cabrera said she still feels nervous before every game. Every time I play a game, for the first couple of points, there are nerves, she said. But if I can get a dig or a serve receive early on, Ill be fine.
After their opening three games at home, the Bulls now head on the road, a challenge that, Cabrera said, was made slightly easier thanks to the momentum gained by the Bulls weekend-ending win over UCF.
Well, in really every sport, USFUCF is a really big rivalry, so getting a win was really good, she said. We needed that, to take away all the nerves from the first couple of games, so it was a must-win, and a big win for us heading onto the road now.
With games against N.C. State, Virginia Commonwealth and Kent State this weekend, Cabrera and the Bulls will need to be ready, and their coach is aware of the challenges ahead.
The competition is going to be good all weekend, really, Draper said. We have N.C. State on Friday, they went 3-0 opening weekend so therell be some challenges there; Virginia Commonwealth, well see them on Saturday and theyre very big and athletic; and then Kent State on Saturday, theyre 1-2 just like us, and we should be able to see them in action earlier in the weekend.
With a home win over a rival under their belt and a defensive leader emerging on the back line, the Bulls are ready to head onto a road trip that, Draper said, will be big in bringing the team closer together.
I think theyre all just really excited for their first road trip together, she said. We have a lot of new players; its a great bonding experience for a womens team when you travel together a long distance for four or more days.