Tampa Bay will not only host the penultimate event in volleyball but will also usher in the 2023 NCAA volleyball season with a prestigious event featuring some of the nation’s most powerful programs. The Road 2 Tampa Bay Volleyball Invitational — featuring the Florida Gators, Penn State Nittany Lions, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the host institution USF Bulls — is set for Aug. 25-26 at Amalie Arena and USF’s Yuengling Center.
The Gators, under Coach Mary Wise (920-126 in 32 UF seasons), have been well-established as one of the nation’s most accomplished programs for three decades. Wise, a 13-time SEC Coach of the Year and three-time AVCA National Coach of the Year has taken the Gators to eight NCAA Final Four appearances and 24 SEC regular-season titles. The Gators (25-6) reached the NCAA region semifinals in 2022.
The Nittany Lions are the nation’s only program to play in each NCAA Volleyball Tournament (42 straight). Coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley, a former Penn State player who just finished her first season (26-8, NCAA region semifinalist) heading the program, oversees an unmatched tradition that includes seven national titles, 17 Big Ten Conference championships, a 108-35 record in NCAA Tournament play and four National Players of the Year.
The Yellow Jackets are led by Coach Michelle Collier, a USF Athletics Hall of Famer who helped the Bulls to a 120-48 record from 1998-2002, three NCAA Tournament appearances and a designation as Conference USA Player of the Decade. Collier, a USF assistant in 2008-09, began her head coaching career at Jacksonville, then shifted in 2014 to Georgia Tech. She led the Yellow Jackets to an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance and a 26-6 mark in 2021. The Yellow Jackets were 21-8 (13-5 ACC) in 2022, when they reached the NCAA Tournament’s second round. In 2019, the Yellow Jackets finished 26-8 and won the National Invitation Volleyball Championship (NIVC) tournament.
The Bulls are led by Coach Jolene Shepardson, a former player at USF and the University of Tampa who engineered dramatic turnarounds during her head-coaching career at San Jose State and Cal State Bakersfield. Shepardson, a former Gatorade Florida Player of the Year at Tampa Prep, is seeking to rebuild USF’s program into an American Athletic Conference contender.
“It’s going to be such a special and exciting way to begin what will truly be a special volleyball season for Tampa Bay,’’ said Tampa Bay Sports Commission vice president of events Claire Lessinger, who played for Wise at UF and also served as USF’s head coach before joining the TBSC in 2012. “We’ll have top 10-level teams and a lot of fun human-interest stories. It’s a perfect way to start and bring attention to the sport. Volleyball has come a long way since we last hosted this event.’’