The Bulls went 19-13 (10-10 AAC) last season and are hoping to return to the postseason for the first time since 2003. Can Coach Courtney Draper, in her 6th year, make it happen in 2017?
2016 look back
The Bulls finished above .500 last year, but did not make the postseason despite one of their better seasons in the past few years. The team posted a .188 kill percentage as a team, recording 2003 digs, 1455 assists and 178 total blocks. It was a solid season, but the team can always do better and will need to post bigger numbers to make that happen. But with the schedule ahead, can they do that?
The 32 match schedule has the Bulls facing teams from 11 different conferences, including 15 matches in Tampa (they get to start the season at home which is rare for this program). USF will be facing the AAC, which is tough enough, but they will be facing teams like LSU and Stephen F. Austin (made the NCAA tournament last year), which will give Coach Draper and her team a lot of tough tests. So what kind of team will the Bulls have this year?
The Bulls will have a new roster entering this year with 5 freshmen and 5 seniors among the ranks. The team will have to replace Dakota Hampton, Elyse Panick who were key on the attack and Amy Van Sant who was a key defender. While losing these players and others is tough, the team has a nice mixture of players with both talent and experience returning.
Some of the top returners are senior middle blocker Joli Holland who had 202 kills last year with 29 digs and 78 total blocks. Redshirt junior middle blocker Clara Payne had 256 kills (in 117 sets) (top returning striker) and added 83 digs and 124 blocks. Another key returning player to watch is senior setter Alex Mendoza with 125 assists (in 117 sets) with 328 digs (2.80 digs per set). These are some of the top players but there are some others that have been added to the roster. Julita Kurdziak, who is a grad transfer from American University, has played in 56 collegiate matches. Brianna Stowell is from Hillsborough CC after playing two years there and recording 2266 assists. Another key transfer outside hitter Reagan Davey who played in 21 matches with Iowa. These key transfers mix with the incoming freshmen to give Draper and staff an interesting group that should be able to win right away.
It’s going to be an interesting year with a rebuilt and new look roster. The team had to replace a lot of talent, but has some solid new players that are ready. The schedule is tough, but this team has been getting better and after hitting the 19 win mark last year, I don’t see them really taking a step back. I think they will be among the top teams in the AAC and the postseason dream is alive and well.