GAINESVILLE ? The USF volleyball team salvaged third place at this weekend?s SunTrust Invitational by beating Marshall Saturday. The Bulls (1-2) pushed sixth-ranked Arizona and ninth-ranked Florida Friday, but in the end, the two top-10 teams emerged victorious. The Bulls were within a handful of points but still couldn?t manage to take a game from either the Wildcats or the Gators.
?Other than Game 2 versus Arizona and Game 1 against Florida where we handed the games to them, we played equal with those teams,? outside hitter Michelle Collier said. ?I think we realized that we could compete at that level.?
The Bulls picked up their first win of the season against Marshall. The Thundering Herd, 4-27 a year ago, provided stiff competition for the Bulls, but USF still won in three games 30-27, 32-30, 30-17. Marshall went winless during the course of the weekend, while Arizona defeated Florida to go undefeated and claim the 2001 SunTrust Invitational championship.
The tournament opener saw the Bulls lose their match to the sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats 30-26, 30-19 and 30-23. The Bulls and Wildcats waged a tightly contested first game that had the score knotted at 25. The next three points went Arizona?s way and the Wildcats closed out the game 30-26. Arizona?s All-American setter Dana Burkholder led a potent Wildcats attack to a .382 hitting percentage in their 30-19 win in the second game. Burkholder also contributed three timely kills on second hits that frustrated and confused the USF defense.
?Their setter is awesome,? senior Kelly Mathiasmeier said. ?She moved the ball around and created a lot for her hitters. She?s very talented and tough to face.?
Featuring four regulars who stand 6 feet 2 inches, plus a 6-foot 5-inch reserve middle blocker, the Wildcats had a definitive height advantage and used the creative passing of Burkholder to finish off the Bulls.
?Well, physically we had an advantage in that aspect, plus I think we have one of the top two or three setters in the country with Dana Burkholder,? Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. ?So, mixed with that, when we pass the ball well and handle the ball well, the only reason we wouldn?t do well is because we?re not taking care of business on our side.?
The Bulls came out flat for their nightcap Friday as the host Gators stormed out to leads of 8-1 and 16-7 before winning the first game 30-11. The second game saw the Bulls regroup in time to tie the score at 27 on a Jolene Patton kill. Again, the Bulls couldn?t sustain the momentum as the Gators collected three straight points to win the second game 30-27.
?With rally scoring, it?s harder to build momentum,? Mathiasmeier said. ?Every time you touch the ball, if you make an error, it?s a point for the other team. Every missed serve is a point for the other team. You have to be more consistent and not so up-and-down that the errors come at crucial times.?
Trailing 25-17 in the third game, USF ran off seven of the next eight points to close within two. The Bulls would get no closer though as the Gators went on to take the game 30-26. The Gators rang up eight aces in the match against USF, but nine service errors kept the Bulls in the match.
For the Bulls, Patton registered 10 digs and seven kills in the match. Collier, the preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, added 21 kills, but the junior also committed 12 errors. UF had a balanced attack featuring Aury Cruz, Benavia Jenkins and Nicole McCray all registering double-digit kills.
?We?re a scrappy team, but we need better ball control,? USF coach Nancy Mueller said. ?The other teams kept their composure a little more. On hard dug balls they were still able to run their offense. We were a little chaotic, but it?s just the first game of the year against some very good teams and we held our own.?
The Bulls will make their debut at the Corral tonight at 7 p.m. against Florida Atlantic. The Owls were just 10-20 a year ago. The Bulls swept through FAU in three sets last season, winning 15-5, 15-6, 15-6. The Owls enter tonight?s matchup after opening the season at the Shamrock Invitational in South Bend, Ind., where they went winless against Idaho, No. 20 Notre Dame and Southwest Texas.
Anthony Gagliano covers volleyball and can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org