If there was one thing that the USF volleyball team didn’t want to do, it was share a Conference USA title with Louisville.
After the Cardinals foiled the Bulls’ shot at an undefeated regular season Saturday, that’s precisely what happened. With the loss, the Bulls and Cardinals finished knotted atop the final C-USA standings, with Louisville earning the top seed in Friday’s C-USA Tournament by the virtue of its head-to-head victory.
“I was sad at the end of the game,” senior Michelle Collier said. “But we played hard and Louisville is a very good team. We knew we had to play our best, so we’ll move on. We’re co-champs, and that’s nothing to be sad about to get so close.”
The Bulls (26-6, 12-1 in C-USA) managed to breeze past Cincinnati Friday, but once again, it was Louisville standing in USF’s way.
The Cardinals have been the Bulls’ nemesis in the past, handing USF one of its three C-USA losses a year ago. Louisville also handed Collier and the Bulls defeats in the C-USA title game in 1998 and 2000.
Saturday, the Cardinals (23-4, 12-1) used their towering front line to dominate play at the net. Following USF’s 30-26 win in Game 1, which ended on a 9-2 USF run, the Cardinals size became too much. Standing an average of 6-foot-1 across the front row, Louisville had 15 blocks to USF’s six. USF also couldn’t compete with the Louisville in digs, losing that battle 91-55.
“Sarah Drury (35 digs) was amazing,” Collier said. “It seemed like she was everywhere on the court. Plus, it’s so hard because they average 6-foot-1 across the front line. But that’s no excuse, we knew they were going to be physical. They just got the job done.”Collier’s double-double (22 kills and 15 digs) aided in the Bulls’ comeback as they pushed Game 3 to 34-32, but the Cardinals took the match in four sets.
“It’s frustrating because blocking and defense are things we work on a lot and I knew we’d be put to the test, but we had three great practices going in,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “We just needed to execute better. Against Cincinnati we were near flawless to a T. We just weren’t as consistent against Louisville.
“You never like to lose. But sometimes when you lose, you can learn something about yourself and areas you might need to make changes to. We realized Saturday we have some things to work and I think we can learn from it.”
The Bulls have a blueprint to work from in their 3-0 dismantling of Cincinnati. The Bearcats (20-7, 11-2) are the third seed in the conference tournament, but the Bulls treated them like an also-ran, whipping up a 30-26, 30-21, 30-28 victory.
USF posted a .308 attack percentage for match, striking no lower than .295, while UC could only muster a .193 offensive.
The C-USA Tournament starts Friday in Chicago, though with its first-round bye, USF won’t play until Saturday, when it meets the winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup between Houston and TCU.
The winner of the C-USA Tournament earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, which begins Dec. 5.
“After the game, I told them, ‘You’re a great team, and you’re going to continue to do great things,'” Mueller said. “We just need to quit talking and do it.
“They’re definitely hungry, and they’re a good team. That’s what championships are built on. I think we’re going to surprise some teams, ourselves included.”