2014 USF volleyball season preview

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Volleyball

2014 could be a big year for the volleyball program. (Picture credit: http://www.gousfbulls.com)

Volleyball has returned! The Bulls who went 17-15 (11-7) last year are looking for a break out year and have a loaded roster that is primed for it. USF returns AAC player of the year Erin Fairs who will try to lead the Bulls to the postseason. The schedule ahead is tough but Coach Courtney Draper and her team are prepared for the challenge. 

Coach Draper enters her third season as the head coach with a record of 34-30 (17-15 both years). In her first year, the Bulls won 5 more games than the previous year and the recruiting has picked up since then. Coach Draper has put together 3 straight recruiting classes that are ranked in the top 100, bringing skilled and talented players to USF. The Bulls are trying to get to the postseason for the first time since 2002, but the road ahead will not be easy.

The schedule for the Bulls is a daunting one. The Bulls are slated to face several teams that went to the NCAA tournament last year including Purdue, LSU, Auburn, San Diego, and Pittsburgh among others. The AAC will also be challenging as well. The conference champion from last year, Louisville, is gone but SMU and UCF who finished ahead of the Bulls (finished 4th) will be favorites going into the year. Newcomers like ECU and Tulsa will be new challenges as well for the Bulls. The early portion of the schedule will have the Bulls not only prepared for conference play, but will also boost their RPI throughout the season. Most of the non-conference games for the Bulls will also be on the road, preparing them even more for hostile environments.

So who will be on the court for the Bulls in 2014? Coach Draper returns 7 players from the 2013 team after a few players transferred and the lone senior, Andrea Rodriguez Gomez, graduated. The incoming recruiting class of 8 players will mix in with the returning squad and will push for playing time right away. Let’s first break down the incoming recruiting class to see what they bring to the court.

Outside hitter Priscilla Ehieze – 5’10” – Ehieze was varsity all four years at Cinco Ranch HS and was all district for three years. In her final season she totaled 201 kills and 112 digs. She is a hard hitter that can be a weapon on the outside or even moving into the middle. It will be interesting to see how much playing time she sees in 2014. I would expect her to rotate in and help contribute right away.

Outside hitter Adyson Goodnight – 5’11” – Goodnight helped lead her Papillion La Vista South High School to the Nebraska state championship and national high school title last year while hitting 61 aces. Goodnight should be a rotational player and could be a star in the making from the outside. On a side note, I can’t wait for her to end a match with a kill and use her last name to perfect use.

Setter Alex Mendoza – 5’11” – Mendoza totaled 603 assists, 201 digs, 103 kills, 45 aces, and 15 blocks during her career. She is the tallest setter on the roster and will bring a unique skill set to the team. It will be interesting to see how she develops in her freshman year with Natalia Soares and Olga Morekhodova joining her at the setter position.

Middle blocker Brittany Kelly – 6′ – Kelly totaled school records at Winter Park HS with 15 aces, 10 blocks in one match and 85 blocks during her junior season. She is a very dynamic player that can move all around the court and can attack in various ways for the Bulls. I believe she will see plenty of early playing time, rotating in, and becoming a key player for the Bulls early in her career.

Middle blocker Joli Holland – 5’11” – Holland was District 24 AAA player of the year in 2011 and brings a lot of club experience along with her great athletic ability. Holland is very athletic and should be a key player moving forward in the middle (not sure how many sets she might see in 2014).

Libero/defensive specialist Payton Brown – 5’3″ – Brown is a defensive specialist who led her Cypress Creek High School in digs last year, finishing her final two years with more than 500 digs. She also represented the US in the 2013 Summer Deaf Olympics in Bulgaria, bringing even more experience from international play. She will be a key player in the center, keeping sets alive for the Bulls.

Middle blocker/right side hitter Bree Scarbrough – Senior – 6’1″ – Scarbrough played at American University for the past three years, totaling 166 career blocks and 246 kills over 222 sets (America made it to the Sweet 16). She brings a lot of experience in both the middle and outside hitter position, something the Bulls were thin on (experience) after players like Kayla Bivins and Ciara Brown transferred out. She will have an impact right away.

Setter Olga Morekhodova – Junior – 5’9″ – Morekhodova was a NJCAA All America Honorable Mention honoree in 2012 and brings experience and height to the setter position. She was born in the Ukraine and went to high school at Escuela de Comerica in Buenos Aires and then finished her degree in Key West. She was named Monroe County player of the year in her senior season. She will be a key player, joining Natalia Soares at the setter position. Because of her height and collegiate experience, I would expect her to be a step ahead of Alex Mendoza to start the year.

The incoming recruiting class is a very deep and talented one. Each position on the court will have plenty of depth moving into the season, giving Coach Draper plenty of options she can turn to. It also will push the returning players even more as they head into the season, making the team collectively better. Here are the returning players for the 2014 season (lost Kaylva Bivins, Ciara Brown, and Hailey Brown to transfer and Andrea Rodriguez Gomez and Carissa Whalen to graduation).

#8 Wylie Devlin – 5’7″ – Junior – DS/L – Winter Park, FL (Winter Park HS)

Devlin played in 120 sets last year. She totaled 569 assists (4.74 per set), along with 8 service aces, and 238 digs. She will be a key player again at the libero position. I would expect to see Payton Brown split some time with her at the position, but Devlin is the leader and veteran on the roster. Devlin will play a huge role this season as the defensive specialist and is set for big numbers once again.

#20 Jaime Dickinson – 6′ – Sophomore – RS/OH – Gurnee, IL (Warren Township HS)

Dickinson played in 10 sets last year, adding a kill and 2 digs. With other players like Bivins and Brown now gone, the need for depth at the right side and outside hitter position is key for the Bulls to help Erin Fairs on the attack. Dickinson is in prime position to see a lot more playing time in 2014 and the numbers should reflect it at the end of the year. While the freshmen will push her, Dickinson should see a lot more playing time.

#7 Erin Fairs – 5’11” – Junior – OH – Richmond, TX (Foster HS)

Yes hello to the reigning AAC player of the year. Fairs caught fire last year, leading the team and becoming one of the best players in the country. She appeared in 115 sets, adding 429 kills (3.73 kills per set), 12 assists, 24 service aces, 507 digs, and 69 blocks (8 solo). Fairs is a very athletic player and a violent striker, making her a nightmare to face at the net. It’s no secret Fairs is the Bulls best weapon and she is poised for another big year. She should challenge again for the player of the year award again and could put up even bigger numbers. I can’t wait to see her on the attack once again.

#11 Dakota Hampton – 6′ – Sophomore – OH – Orland Park, IL (Carl Sandburg HS)

Hampton played in 119 sets last year, totaling 168 kills, 7 assists, 17 service aces, 349 digs and 46 blocks. Hampton put together a strong freshman season last year but there are bigger things ahead for her in 2014. With other players leaving and young players coming in, Hampton can become a bigger weapon on the attack, like Fairs, and should see an increase in kills this season.

#16 Alexus Heidelberg – 5’9″ – Sophomore – RS/OH – Winter Garden, FL (West Orange HS)

Heidelberg appeared in 35 sets last year, recording 22 kills, 4 service aces, 33 digs and 8 blocks. Much like Jaime Dickinson, Heidelberg should see a lot more playing time in 2014, but the freshmen will be pushing.

#12 Jennica Mullins – 6’1″ – Senior – MB – Seminole, FL (Northside Christian HS)

Mullins played in 116 sets last year, recording 161 kills, 13 digs, and totaled 123 blocks, making her a key defender at the net. With Andrea Rodriguez Gomez gone (led team in blocks last year), it will be on Mullins to put up even bigger numbers at the net. She has the height and athleticism to get it done and with her senior leadership, she’ll be a key figure at the center of the court.

#17 Natalia Soares – 5’7″ – Junior – S – Porto Alegre, Brasil (Colegio Farroupiha)

Soares returns as the starting setter. She played in 120 sets last year, totaling 726 assists, 23 service aces, 217 digs, and 2 blocks. Soares was a huge part to the success of Erin Fairs, setting her up for all of her kills. She brings a lot of experience to the court and will be a key player going into the season.

#4 Amy Van Sant – 5’7″ – Sophomore – DS/L – Atlanta, GA (Lakeside HS)

Van Sant appeared in 117 sets last year, totaling 97 assists, 466 digs, and 15 service aces. She played beside Wylie Devlin and gave the Bulls two solid defenders on the court. She now has a full year under her belt and will be even better in 2014.

Season prediction: So how will this season go? Taking my green and gold glasses for a second, I think the Bulls are poised to make a run at the AAC title and could even flirt with an NCAA bid if they do so. Erin Fairs is the clear leader of this team and with two years of great recruiting under her belt, Coach Draper is poised to lead the team past the 17 win mark. The first half of the season is very tough so many games against ranked opponents, but it will help prepare the Bulls for the AAC portion of the schedule. The AAC, without Louisville anymore, should be a battle of 4 teams for the regular season title. SMU, UCF, and incoming Tulsa should all be at the top along with USF. While anyone can beat anyone, these 4 should be the favorites entering the year. I believe USF, with the added depth and returning veteran players should be able to push to the top of the conference and either win the title or the conference tournament. They are too talented not to make a push for a title and a postseason bid. It should be a fun season to watch.

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