USF volleyball coach prepares to face former teammate in season-opening tournament

Bulls head coach Jolene Shepardson will lead her team against former teammate and USF Athletics Hall of Famer Michelle Collier, who is currently the head coach of the Yellow Jackets. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF volleyball’s season opener against Georgia Tech on Friday at Amalie Arena will feature an interesting parallel.

In their first matchup as coaches, former Bulls teammates Michelle Collier and Jolene Shepardson will face off in the Road to Tampa Bay Tournament opener.

Collier is entering her 10th season as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach. She has led GT to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, including an elite eight berth in 2021.

As a player, Collier was arguably one of the greatest student-athletes to ever play for USF. In her playing days from 1998-2002, the USF Hall of Famer was an All-American and finished her career fifth all-time NCAA Division 1 kills with 2,729.

Collier and Bulls coach Shepardson played together as outside hitters during the 2001-02 season. Shepardson said she had fond memories of their time together as student-athletes, and that they are still good friends today.

She recalled their final USF match together, which was a 3-1 defeat against the Florida Gators in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. While it did not end the way they had hoped, she said she still remembers that day fondly.  

“She was a fabulous, talented teammate, and we played the same position,” Shepardson said at a Monday press conference. “We partied, hung out and did everything together. She would do things in the gym that I would try to do. It was just fun to have somebody of that caliber in practice daily.”

The same winning culture on those contending Bulls teams from the early 2000s is what Shepardson said she is aiming to pass on to the program currently. 

During their preseason, the Bulls used their downtime to prioritize team bonding. They stayed in villas at Amelia Island in Jacksonville. Junior setter and Eastern Tennessee State transfer Caroline Dykes said the experience has helped the team mesh as they prepare for the regular season.

“That was a really good bonding experience…we would have movie nights, before curfew of course. We just had a lot of fun with it,” Dykes said.

In her three years as head coach, Shepardson has noticed a new maturity in her team, both on and off the field. She said the chemistry and camaraderie they’ve built will aid them as they open the season against a tough opponent at Amalie Arena.

“You see a lot more connectedness. The returners really embrace the newcomers, so you’re seeing more of that team chemistry,” Shepardson said. 

“You’re seeing our skill has increased our physicality…you see the chemistry, so all of it is paying off just being here.” 

While the Bulls are already determined to win, they will have the extra motivation of giving their head coach bragging rights over her former teammate.

“We’re both competitive people. So I’m sure we’re both feeling that,” Shepardson said.

“Now we get to face off, so I will be bragging about it for ages if I win and take her down. I will never let it down.”

Volleyball will kick off its season against the Yellow Jackets in the Road 2 Tampa Bay Tournament on Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. The match will take place at Amalie Arena and will be broadcast on ESPN+.