A disappointing year, paired with the loss of its star player, initially provided a bleak outlook for the USF volleyball team entering this season.
After finishing with a losing record (14-18) last year for the first time since 2011, the Bulls were dealt a hearty blow when junior outside hitter Erin Fairs, the 2013 AAC Player of the Year and the team’s leader in kills (489) and digs (431), bolted for the University of Louisville in December.
But longtime coach Courtney Draper believes her team will return to its competitive ways this season, thanks in part to three transfers coming in from Division I programs.
“The nature of our industry is (that) recruiting really happens two or three years out,” Draper said during the team’s media day Aug. 6. “So, we’re really starting to get some huge marquee players that we’re really excited about.”
Junior outside hitter Denise Belcher, who is likely to fill the spot left by Fairs’ departure, comes to USF from the University of Florida, where she had four kills and four blocks in four matches last fall. Junior right side Elyse Panick (Marshall) and redshirt freshman middle blocker Clara Payne (Virginia Tech) should also provide an additional boost.
All three also have previous ties to the team. Payne and Panick were former teammates of USF sophomore Alex Mendoza and junior Dakota Hampton. Belcher came out of the Orlando Volleyball Academy, where Bulls assistant coach Travers Green was previously on staff.
“One of things that initially drew me to South Florida was my connection from Coach Trav, as well as my initial phone conversation with coach Draper,” said Belcher, who enrolled early to get a jumpstart.
Belcher said the talent of her new squad has pleasantly surprised her.
“We have a very talented group of girls with the retuning players and the transfers …,” Belcher said. “We have quite a few pin players, but each pin player offers something different and new to the table that may not have been previously there.”