A new defensive leader is emerging, as the No. 4 University of Tampa volleyball team continues its ascent through the ranks.
Sophomore Julie Howlett is in her first season as a starter and has shined at the libero position.
She leads UT and is sixth in the Sunshine State Conference with 167 digs, averaging 3.63 per set.
This isn’t the first time Howlett has shown promise defensively.
Howlett is a Venice, Florida native and attended Venice High School. A graduate in 2008, she enjoyed success from the beginning.
In 2005, she helped the Indians win a state volleyball championship.
Howlett also broke the school record for digs in a match on her way to an honorable mention on the Class 5A all-state team as a senior.
In addition to her high school team, Howlett played club volleyball for Tampa United, leading her team to a national runner-up finish in 2007 and a third place the following year.
Howlett made her UT debut in 2008, appearing in 28 matches and starting one.
This year, she’s capitalizing on her chance to start.
“[Howlett] is a key factor in our success,” UT head coach Chris Catanach said. “She can achieve All-American status. It’s going to take extra work, but she has that potential.” Catanach added that the team would not be the same without Howlett as a starter, citing the defensive and serving responsibilities of the libero position.
As for the team’s success so far this season, Howlett gives credit to the unit as a whole.
“Our team’s bonding is unbelievable,” Howlett said. “The fact that we can play so well together on the court and we can be so close off the court is the great part about it.”
Howlett cited smaller class sizes and the overall success of the volleyball program as reasons for choosing UT, but her journey comes with an additional twist.
Her defensive success can, in part, be attributed to the SSC’s all-time digs leader, Margeaux Sinibaldi.
Sinibaldi, a four-year letterwinner who played volleyball at UT from 2004-07, is Howlett’s sister.
A star in her own right, Sinibaldi is one of only 22 NCAA II players to reach 2,000 career digs.
Howlett now follows in those footsteps, as that link helped make her decision to play at UT easier.
While she has no plans to play volleyball after college, Howlett does have one more goal in mind while at UT.
“I would like to win a national championship,” Howlett said. Sinibaldi was an integral part of the 2006 team that captured the national title.
With two more years of eligibility remaining and the team on the rise, the dream is very much alive.
Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.