Volleyball: Draper excited for young lineup this fall
USF volleyball opened its spring practice on Monday, and as coach Courtney Draper approaches her second season, there's considerable turnover on the roster, with five seniors gone from 2012, as well as two key hitters who are transferring.
"We're going to have a lot of new faces in the fall," said Draper, who could have as many as eight newcomers in 2013. "We're still going to very, very young. Andrea Rodriguez is our only rising senior right now."
-- USF picked up a midyear transfer from Winthrop in middle hitter Jennica Mullins, who will have two years of eligibility with the Bulls. She led Winthrop in kills with 277 as a sophomore and led the Big South conference in blocks with 1.29 per set; by comparison USF's leading blocker had 1.07 per. Mullins, who played at Northside Christian, has known Mullins from summer camps in high school. "Great student, great person. She's been a really nice addition athletically, of course, but also personally she's a joy to have here, too," Draper said.
-- USF is losing two of its top players from last season to transfers -- Kayla Walton, who led the team with 184 kills in Big East play, is graduating this spring and will play her final season at Missouri State, while sophomore Valerie El Houssine is also leaving the program. Draper said El Houssine, who had been featured prominently as a freshman under coach Claire Lessinger, wanted a larger role. "My ideas are to spread things out a little bit, but if you look at statistics from her first year in the program, she was a little more the go-to," Draper said. "It's her decision to transfer."
-- Draper is pleased with the progress of outside hitter Erin Fairs, who was the Big East's Freshman of the Year last fall. "She's still terminating the ball really well," said Draper, who likes what she's seen from new strength coach Tyson Brown, who worked with the volleyball program at Washington. "It's fun to see all these freshmen that have such a long way to go in the strength and conditioning area to be getting stronger and faster and jumping higher. It's really exciting. (Fairs) was strong, but she can still become so much stronger and gain a couple inches on her vertical. She has a very promising future with us."
-- USF has three scholarships available for the spring signing period and could get help to offset the loss of Walton and El Houssine; Draper's fall signees included versatile Hailey Brooks, the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Virginia, and Dakota Hampton, a 6-foot outside hitter who is the daughter of former Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton. Brooks was a hitter and setter in high school but will likely set at USF, and she'll bring more size to the position at 5-foot-9.
-- Draper used two freshmen primarily at setter last season in Natalia Soares and Wylie Devlin, and she said Devlin will move this spring into the libero position vacated by Claudia Cabrera's graduation. Draper said she expects newcomers to challenge for that spot in the fall as well.
-- USF will close out spring drills by competing in a beach volleyball tournament, the Fiesta on Siesta Key on April 13, and will be playing at Miami and against other schools on April 6. Draper wants to build on last year's 17-15 debut, which saw the Bulls knock off Notre Dame in the Big East tournament. "What used to be goals, now I want to be expectations," she said. "Obviously we have some work to do."