The 2017 season was one of rebuilding for USF Volleyball.
After finishing third in their conference last season with a 12-18 record, the Bulls are aiming to lead the race this year, especially with new additions to the roster and staff.
“It has been a long time since a banner was hung in this gym,” coach Courtney Draper said. “2002 was the last time that a banner was hung. So for us that is always the ultimate goal, the goal is always the NCAA tournament.”
Draper is entering her seventh season as the Bulls’ coach. She says she is optimistic the teams chemistry has continued to improve through offseason training and the addition of a coach from a high school who as dominated volleyball locally.
The man, Caleb Sibert, comes to USF from Clearwater High School, where he had a career record of 141-62. He joined USF earlier this year.
“(Sibert’s) awesome, he was with us as a volunteer with us during the Spring and we felt that he is the right fit for us,” Draper said. “That is the luxury of having (Sibert), because there are a lot of similarities in the way we train and the way we think about the game.”
Returning for the Bulls is redshirt senior Clara Payne, who, as of last season, leads the team in points, blocks and hitting percentage. Also returning are seniors Briana Stowell, Maria McLamb and Reagan Davey.
Despite bounds of experience, incoming freshman libero CC Clausen has stood out among the team’s 5 newcomers.
“I think (Clausen) is doing really well, she is really acclimating with the team and she came from a really good club in Texas,” senior Brianna Stowell said. “She works hard everyday and she is going to do really well I think.”
Clausen attended College Park High School in The Woodlands, Texas, which is about 30 minutes outside of Houston.There, she set career records for number of digs with 1,763, before graduating. Clausen was also the schools defensive MVP and selected to the All-District team all four years of high school.
“I really want to win the conference and hopefully make tournament too,” Clausen said. “I want to beat Houston every time, because that is my home town.”
USF was also able to sign four players to the team in November, including Lauren LaBeck, Nicole Legg, Peyton Thompson and Lindsey Pliapol.
LaBeck graduated from Grayslake Central High School, about 40 miles north of Chicago, where she produced a school record of 1,795 career assists and set a single-season record of 784 assists, 53 service aces and 49 kills.
Legg, of Union, KY, received varsity letters for all four years at Larry A. Ryle High. She finished her career with 1,109 kills, 151 blocks, 44 aces and was on the Under Armour watch list from 2015-2017.
Thompson, who also received a varsity letter for four years straight, attended Spartanburg Christian Academy and finished her high school career with 2,015 kills, 259 blocks, 262 digs and 203 service aces.
Pliapol was a varsity letter athlete for four years in a row at Spruce Creek High in Port Orange. Pliapol concluded her High School career with 1,025 kills, 190 blocks, 968 digs, 173 aces and earned the AVCA Under Armour All-American Award all four years. Pliapol was also Spectrum Sports Player of the Year her junior year and was named team captain her senior year.
In addition to the freshmen, USF also added junior transfer Jac’Cara Walker.
Walker spent her first two years at Marshall University and totaled 712 kills, 369 digs, 54 blocks and 55 aces. Walker has already made a big impact on the team.
“I think (Walker) is going to fit in really well, she has a really heavy arm and is really smart on the court,” Stowell said. “She has a lot of great shots whenever we need to side out, so I definitely think she’s going to be beneficial to the team.”
USF’s first game is Aug 24 at home against San Jose State University, but some players are already looking forward to conference play.
“I’m looking forward to playing Cincinnati, because we beat them in five last year at their place,” Stowell said. “So I think they are definitely going to come at us with a lot of fire, but I think that we definitely have a good chance to beat them again.”
For Draper though, it all comes back to getting another banner to look at.
“We talk about it everyday, to hang a banner in The Corral.” Draper said.