After more than 15 mostly nondescript years, USF's volleyball team broke through this autumn with a season reminiscent of the program's heyday.
The postseason promises to be equally reminiscent. One look at the Bulls' first-round foe will have hardcore Bulls fans brimming with nostalgia.
USF (20-11) begins play Thursday in the National Invitation Volleyball Championship (the NIT of volleyball) at Georgia Tech, coached by USF Hall of Famer Michelle Collier. A 2002 All-American, Collier remains the Bulls' career leader in kills (2,729) and digs (1,747), and ranks second in aces (257).
USF reached three NCAA Tournaments during her career (1998-2002), and hasn't been back since. In fact, Thursday's 7 p.m. match (live-stream it here) represents the Bulls' first postseason contest since Collier's senior year.
"When I was playing at Florida State, Michelle Collier was playing here at USF, and she beat me many times as player to player," USF seventh-year coach Courtney Draper said. "So hopefully the result will be different coach to coach."
It could. Buoyed by the arrival of Marshall transfer Jac'cara Walker (team-best 375 kills) and the middle presence of fifth-year senior Clara Payne (280 kills, 115 blocks), USF orchestrated a staggering turnaround from last fall's 12-18 season.
The 20-win season was the Bulls' first since Collier's final season. Walker was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick. Payne made the second team.
"I think there's always a certain sense of urgency after a weak season to get work done in the offseason," Draper said. "So our kids were really focused coming in last spring, and putting great work not only in the gym with our volleyball staff, but also with our strength and conditioning department."