Walking into the Corral this weekend for the USF Best Western Invitational, the USF volleyball team barely resembled its 2002 Conference USA championship team.
Despite missing its two biggest statistical contributors, senior leadership and seven players from last year’s squad, the 2003 version did not disappoint , winning two of three games in the weekend tournament.
The Bulls lost 3-2 against Loyola-Chicago in their first game, but rebounded to defeat Stetson 3-0 and Georgia 3-2.
USF only suited up eight players for its three matches, including four newcomers and three freshmen.
Reduced in size since last year due to graduating seniors, cases of home-sickness and a back injury to junior middle-blocker Rachel Jobes, the Bulls were forced to prove that the new players were ready for the challenge.
“I’m very impressed with our younger players,” senior Bonnye Glover said. “I think they worked as hard as they possibly can and it showed, because we came out very successful. I couldn’t be happier with the youth of our team.”
USF started to improve by the end of the tournament, playing with an impressive showing of determination against Georgia.
Freshman Jahari Williams, sure to be a vital cog down the stretch, struggled to hit and cover tips as USF lost 30-18 to the Bulldogs in its first game.
With USF coach Nancy Mueller virtually unable to rest anyone for a long duration, Williams showed signs of many good things to come as she overcame her struggles by passing strongly and staying in the match.
“Jahari was struggling in hitting but she was able to pass fairly well, and block fairly well,” Mueller said. “That was able to help her out and keep her on the court.”
Key veterans like Glover, who was selected as a member of the All-Tournament team, helped out the four newcomers.
Glover sparked the Bulls in the second game, coming up with three consecutive block assists to spark an 8-2 run that led to a 30-22 victory.
“We needed to come up with some big games, and that’s what I take pride in doing is blocking,” Glover said. “The outside blockers helped me, which set it up really well. And it wasn’t me, it was definitely a team effort.”
Glover finished the match with seven block assists and a team-high 45 percent hitting average.
“She really played like a senior (Saturday),” Mueller said. “We really needed her in this match, and she stepped it up, which took some of the pressure off other players.”
Junior Shameka Mitchell, an All-Tournament team selection, was also strong for the Bulls, tallying a match-high 25 kills while adding seven block assists against Georgia.