USF volleyball coach Courtney Draper first coached junior Jennica Mullins seven years ago.
Draper saw hundreds of faces in her time coaching volleyball camps for teenagers. Despite this, Draper said Mullins stuck out from the rest.
“Instantly I liked her, personally, and she had big feet and big hands for a young kid, so I just saw a lot of potential in her from the first time I ever saw her play,” Draper said.
The Seminole native is helping the Bulls rise through the conference in blocks. Mullins, at 6-foot-1, is fifth in the conference in blocks per set at 1.05, trailing senior teammate Andrea Rodriguez Gomez, who is in first place at 1.34 blocks per set.
As a team, the young Bulls are first in the AAC with
2.53 blocks per set. Mullins’ status as team captain brings leadership to a team with 11 of 14 players listed as freshmen and sophomores.
Draper monitored Mullins’ progress as a volleyball player throughout high school until Mullins decided to play for Winthrop University.
They remained close, but the pairing of the two would have to wait. Draper was not yet the coach at USF and Mullins felt strongly about the coaching staff at Winthrop. Even though Draper thought she wouldn’t be able to coach Mullins, she still supported her through the signing process.
“I even went to her signing when she signed for Winthrop,” Draper said. “I went to that signing to support her. I remember giving her a card and wishing her luck and saying, ‘Darn, I wish I had the chance to coach that kid’.”
Mullins was drawn to Winthrop because the coach had been recruiting her since her sophomore year, but unfortunately for Mullins, the coach left the program the year before she would attend Winthrop.
“During my senior year of high school, the coach that recruited me called and said that she was leaving, so when we got a new coach, it just wasn’t the experience I thought it was going to be,” Mullins said.
Due to the positive relationship Draper established with Mullins over the past seven years, USF was an easy pick for the junior transfer student, she said.
“Those relationships that you build with young kids hopefully remain intact and good stories like this happen,” Draper said.
The transfer from Winthrop to USF has been a win-win for Draper and Mullins thus far. Draper said she gained a good player who adds depth, experience and leadership to the team, and Mullins was finally able to achieve the
college volleyball experience she sought for at Winthrop.
“We really needed a few transfers this year for leadership, experience and to balance out scholarships, and obviously they’ve both been really good players for us this season,” Draper said.
Reflecting on the transition from the Winthrop team to USF, Mullins said the biggest changes were that the play is more fast-paced at USF and there is much more to do in Tampa than there was at Winthrop.
“I like it a lot, it’s been a good change,” Mullins said. “The coaching staff is awesome. I like the team. The school is a lot better, there’s a lot more going on. It’s just a more exciting experience
USF takes to the road this weekend for matches against Louisville and Cincinnati on Friday and Sunday