Bulls handle Blazers

The USF volleyball team looked sluggish Tuesday, but still had little trouble defeating Alabama-Birmingham. The Bulls (9-4, 3-1 in Conference USA) put away the Blazers (6-7, 0-5) 30-20, 30-16, 30-23.

Injuries kept UAB’s leading attacker, outside hitter Shelly Greene, and starting setter, Jessica Liptak, from competing in the match and the Blazers dressed just seven players.

“We needed to be crisper,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “UAB’s struggling right now, they have couple of injuries so they’re missing some starters. We had a chance to work on some things and we just didn’t pass very well.”

UAB has now lost six straight, the last five to C-USA foes. Outside hitter Greene was averaging a team high 3.61 kills per game and is the lone UAB senior this season. Liptak had posted 11.79 assists per game starting at setter as a freshman. Last season, the Blazers only won six matches all year, none in conference play.

“We just didn’t get excited enough,” junior Jolene Patton said. “We wanted to be perfect to get ready for this weekend (matches with Cincinnati and No. 23 Louisville). The little errors really frustrated us and we didn’t celebrate much on the good plays because we were still focusing on the errors.”

The Bulls came out strong, leaping out to an 8-2 lead on a kill from Shameka Mitchell. Three straight aces from Michelle Collier gave USF a 16-8 margin in Game 1. Collier had eight aces, all in the first two games, which is one shy of the career best she set Sept. 23 vs. New Orleans. Collier also led the Bulls in kills with 17. The Bulls’ largest lead in Game 1 was 22-10 before they finished the game with a 30-20 victory.

Patton was second on the night in kills with 10. In the last three matches, the transfer from the University of Tampa has recorded 49 kills on 102 attempts for a .264 percentage.

“Jolene switched positions with Michelle so she can be utilized on lower, faster sets,” Mueller said. “She is able to hit the slide behind the setter off one foot, which is her strongest shot, and that gets us to side out faster.”

The change has boosted Patton’s confidence too, as she’s become a bigger force on the USF attack.

“We’re running a different play, behind the setter, which I’m stronger at,” Patton said. “It’s a quicker play, which is better for me. That’s been a big difference and I have more confidence on the outside now.”

The Bulls’ defense emerged against the smaller, shorthanded Blazers. Patton provided quality defense as well with seven digs and three blocks. USF managed to double the Blazers in both categories. The Bulls had 48 digs to UAB’s 24, and eight blocks to the Blazers’ four.

The Bulls trailed 10-8 in the third game before a block from Patton and Mitchell gave the Bulls their first lead. The Blazers closed within three at 23-20, but a pair of UAB service errors and two kills from Bonnye Glover helped USF close out the match.”We were kind of goofy in warm-ups,” Patton said. “Not having a home match in a while hurt. It was just hard to raise the level this evening. But we put it together and won.”

  • Anthony Gagliano covers volleyball and can be reached at oracleanthony@yahoo.com