How USF’s volleyball coach guided her team to see best conference start since 2020

Coach Jolene Shepardson is on her third season with the Bulls since joining South Florida in January 2020. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

After a slow start to her career at USF, coach Jolene Shepardson has led her volleyball team to their strongest start in conference play since joining the program in 2020.

This season, USF (10-6, 4-1 AAC) has won four of its five games so far. Its only loss was on Sept. 24 against Memphis in a 3-1 match. 

Currently, USF ranks No. 1 in the East Division and No. 2 overall in conference standings. 

However, throughout the 2020-22 seasons, the Bulls lost 38 out of 46 conference games. In 2021, they finished with a 1-19 record. 

Going into 2022, things were looking up for Shepardson as she went through her first off-season with the Bulls and her team gained on-court experience. But luck turned quickly as injuries heavily affected the roster and the team ended the season with a conference record of 4-14. 

After that, Shepardson helped revamp the coaching staff with three newcomers and two members leaving. Arguably the most notable of the newcomers was assistant coach Leandro Vissotto.

Vissotto joined USF in June and one of his focuses is serving. Since the addition of the Olympic silver medalist, USF has seen a jump in its number of aces. Last season, the team ended with 160, but they’ve recorded 115 halfway through this season.

Shepardson’s recruitment has also played a big part in her success. Her roster includes four international players that were recruited during her time as a coach. 

Three international athletes having a standout season this year are sophomore outside hitters Buse Hazan and Maria Clara Andrade along with senior outside hitter Marta Cvitkovic.

All three have been making headlines this season – Cvitkovic recently reached a career-high of 100 aces. 

Andrade was named the AAC offensive player of the week on Sept. 4, becoming the first South Florida player to do so since 2016.

On Oct. 2, Hazan was named the AAC offensive player of the week and reached a career-high of 21 kills in their first match against Memphis on Sept. 23. 

South Florida’s next chance to extend this run comes against UTSA (1-4 AAC), a team that ranks sixth in the West Division and No. 11 overall. If the Bulls manage to ride this winning momentum and stay healthy, they have a possibility of winning a season title.