Sunday’s match with Tulane was the end of the road for senior Kelly Mathiasmeier, but it may be the start of a bright future for freshman Shameka Mitchell.
The Bulls (21-7, 13-3) defeated the Green Wave (16-13, 7-9) 30-24, 30-24, 30-17 to extend their winning streak to nine behind 11 kills from Mitchell and seven from Mathiasmeier in her home finale. USF has won all nine matches by a 3-0 margin.
Mitchell, normally a middle blocker, made her first appearance in the back row this season. Her first serve went into the net, but her fourth resulted in the freshman’s first career ace.
“I didn’t know until game time,” Mitchell said of her stint in the back row.
“Most definitely (this is something I want to try next year). I’m going to try and get my serving better and hopefully, whatever happens, happens.”
Without defensive specialist Lindsay Guidish, who missed the game due to a death in her family, Mueller tried Mitchell in the back row, and the freshman from Lakeland responded with four digs and three solo blocks. Coming into the match, Mitchell had just 26 digs in 66 games.
Mitchell was also a key component of the Bulls’ attack as she led USF with six kills in Game 3. Mitchell also had a match-high .556 attack percentage.
“We just had to make some adjustments and we wanted to try Shameka out,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “She did a good job. She just needed to gain some confidence and once she did, she was fine.”
The day, however, belonged to Mathiasmeier. An emotional prematch ceremony included the presentation of a framed No. 7 jersey and a teary-eyed goodbye from junior Maryann Mooney.
“I was trying so hard not to cry, but you know when the time came, it’s like an emotional time,” Mathiasmeier said.
The Bulls’ emotions let the Green Wave leak out to a 9-7 lead, but blocks from Mitchell and Mathiasmeier ignited a 6-0 run that gave USF a 25-19 advantage it would not relinquish.
Perhaps no play epitomized Mathiasmeier’s competitive drive more than when, with the score 17-15 in the first, she knocked down teammate Ale Domingos to set a ball that eventually led to a USF point.
“I wasn’t trying to knock her down, she was just in the way,” Mathiasmeier said. “She didn’t know where I was, so I was like ‘Move Ale move Ale.’ Then, you know … “
Against Tulane, Mathiasmeier displayed the versatility that she’s been known for, having played both setter and right-side hitter during her four years. The senior from Denver recorded three kills in the decisive third game, in addition to finishing with 10 digs, five assists, three blocks and an ace in her last home match for USF. The Bulls head to Houston for the Conference USA tournament, then wrap up the regular season with a match vs. UCF Nov. 21.
“It’s weird (the thought of playing at home without her),” Mueller said.
“I don’t think it’s settled in yet. She’s a good kid. She’s a great player, fun kid to watch play volleyball.
“Whoever fills those shoes is going to have to be pretty good (and) very durable. Great kid with great work ethic and a never-say-die attitude. Those are big shoes to fill. I’m really proud of her.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers volleyball and can be reached at email@example.com