Taylor Brauneis got a taste of overseas travel after high school when she joined her Club Fusion volleyball teammates on a trip through several European countries.
“That got me really interested in other cultures and different styles of play,” said Brauneis, a senior setter at the University of Florida.
In June, Brauneis joined a USA Development Program team on a 10-day tour of China that included matches against teams in the Shanghai and Beijing regions. The Prairie Ridge graduate hopes the trip is a preview of her future as a professional player overseas.
“[The trip] helped me adapt to some outside things – the food, the culture, the time change, different coaches,” she said. “I’ve always intended to play after college.”
Brauneis’ team was guided by New Mexico coach Jeff Nelson, whose staff for the trip included South Carolina assistant coach Shawn Garus and Metro State assistant coach Debbie Hendricks.
“I got feedback from everyone,” Brauneis said. “It’s going to make me a lot better.”
This fall, Brauneis’ immediate focus is continuing her career with the Gators, who were picked by league coaches to win the Southeastern Conference and are ranked No. 9 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll. The Gators open the season this weekend by hosting the Campus USA Credit Union Invite.
Brauneis earned AVCA Honorable Mention All-America honors last season, her first with Florida after transferring from Louisville.
“Last year was a new environment all around,” she said. “This year, I’m more comfortable with everything.”
In her first season with the Gators, Brauneis helped guide the team to a 27-5 record, an SEC title and an appearance in the Sweet 16, where Florida lost to eventual national champion Texas. She is one of five starters returning for Florida.
Along with playing 12 times on TV this season, the first coming Saturday on the Longhorn Network, Florida has another key date that Brauneis has highlighted.
The Gators host the Active Ankle Challenge on Sept. 13 and 14 and play an opening-night match against Georgetown, whose roster includes freshman setter Caitlin Brauneis, Taylor’s younger sister.
But the Gators’ biggest goal is a Dec. 19 date in the NCAA volleyball Final Four in Seattle.
“It’s something we talk about every practice,” Brauneis said.
The Gators have embraced their preseason expectations, and coach Mary Wise discussed a “Final Four mentality” at the team’s media day.
“It’s good to have our coaches have confidence in us and for my teammates to have confidence,” Brauneis said. “We have championship standards.”
One example is in hitting efficiency, a stat that Brauneis’ play effects heavily.
The Gators led the SEC and ranked fourth in the nation in hitting efficiency last season at .298, but the bar has been set higher this season.
“We talk about the numbers that Final Four teams have gotten and we look back at that,” Brauneis said.
Although she led the league with 11.65 assists a set last fall and ranked ninth nationally, Brauneis’ focus is on the team’s success.
“I always ask, ‘Am I making the team better?’ ” she said. “That’s what it comes down to. My job on the court is to make my teammates look good.”
New address for Benedetto: Crystal Lake South grad Nick Benedetto is entering his first season as an assistant football coach this fall at NCAA Division II West Virginia State.
Benedetto, who won two NAIA national titles as a defensive back at the University of Sioux Falls, is serving this fall as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for the Yellow Jackets, who open the season Saturday at Lock Haven (Pa.) University.
Benedetto was hired by new Yellow Jackets coach Jon Anderson, who spent the past three seasons as Sioux Falls’ defensive coordinator.
Benedetto spent the 2012 season as the defensive backs coach at NAIA Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Judson’s best: Jacobs grad Taylor Lesner is the leading hitter this season for NAIA Judson University’s volleyball team.
Lesner, a junior outside hitter, compiled 32 kills for the Eagles (2-2) during their season-opening appearance in last weekend’s Mount Mercy Mustang Invitational. She also ranks second on the team with 54 digs.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local collegeathletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him@BarryOnCampus on Twitter.