On a team in which young talent can be seen across the roster, veteran presence is all the more valuable. For the USF volleyball team, this presence can be seen from junior Kayla Walton.
The 6-foot-3 outside hitter is flourishing in her junior year, leading the Bulls with a .274 hitting percentage and ranks third in kills per set with 2.36.
Coach Courtney Draper said Walton has become a player that the team turns to in big moments of matches.
When I became coach, she was a piece to the puzzle, Draper said. Now shes our go-to player when were under pressure and we need a big swing.
After her freshman and sophomore seasons, Walton stepped into the spotlight of Bulls fans and opponents game plans during the last month. In the last nine matches, the St. Petersburg native is hitting well over .300 and posting more than three kills per set.
Shes getting better every week, Draper said. Were getting her the ball more and more.
Draper commended Waltons film study and her ability to find the little details of how to execute against the opponent.
Im a very visual person, Walton said. If I know the game plan I can definitely play more confident.
Her confidence is at an all-time high, she said.
I definitely didnt think I would be this comfortable and confident on the court, she said.
When Walton began her career at USF, she set her sights high, toward a team goal.
I just want to leave a legacy, Walton said. Within my four years, I want to lead us to the Big East championship.
USF may be poised to give its best shot this season. On Sept. 28, the Bulls competed well with the 17th-ranked Louisville Cardinals and then beat the 2011 Big East Champion Cincinnati Bearcats on Sept. 30.
In the latter of the two contests, Walton set a career-high with 22 kills against the senior-heavy Bearcats. Many of her kills came when the Bulls needed points as Draper has begun to expect including the game-winning point.
Im getting comfortable with a leadership position, she said. But I look up to the younger girls the same way they may look up to me.
Walton said the freshman class caught her attention this summer.
I love them, she said. Theyve brought more chemistry and brought our competition to a much higher level. Within four years theyre going to leave a legacy.
Waltons importance to the team is evident on the stat sheet. In 2012, the Bulls have a 6-1 record when Walton hits over .270 in a match.
Walton and the Bulls begin a four-game home stand on Friday against the Villanova Wildcats.