The USF volleyball team’s season and the career of Kelly Mathiasmeier ended not with a kill or an ace, but amid an uneasy silence. The quiet resulted when the 64-team field for the 2001 NCAA Tournament was announced Monday and the Bulls (21-9) were not among the field.
“Obviously this year is much more frustrating that we didn’t meet the goals that we set out at the beginning of the season,” said Mathiasmeier, USF’s lone senior. “Last year we made it in, and that was definitely one of the goals that we always set.”
Mathiasmeier and the Bulls wrestled an at-large berth a year ago following a 28-5 regular season and a loss in the Conference USA finals to Louisville. The 2001 Bulls had a 9-match winning streak, all 3-0 sweeps, to end the regular season, but that wasn’t enough to offset a first-round upset at the hands of Marquette in the C-USA quarterfinals. Compound that defeat with the forfeit to UCF Nov. 21 after the suspension of six players, and it all added up to the Bulls being on the outside looking in.
“We knew that coming into this meeting today, that we were a very at-large bid,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “If they were taking four teams from C-USA, then we would be in. But you never know which way the ball would bounce.”
Further deflating USF’s chances was the surprising run to the C-USA title by DePaul, the fifth seed. With the Blue Demons securing the C-USA automatic bid, sure fire picks Cincinnati and Louisville swiped at-large berths. Plus, the Bulls lacked a recognizable victory, only defeating one team in the field: UCF.
“If you look at us regionally, we were ranked fifth in the region, so you could look at it that way,” Mueller said. “We had 20 or more wins. You could look at it that way and say, ‘Yeah we have a good shot getting in.’ But then you could also take a step back and go, ‘We lost to Alabama,’ which was a significant loss for us. We lost to Marquette and DePaul. Weighing all the factors out, our losses weighed a little more than our wins.”
For Mathiasmeier, it was a difficult conclusion to a decorated career. First, she was suspended Nov. 20 along with five others for “a violation of team rules.” Then, the Bulls narrowly missed making their seventh NCAA appearance, third in Mathiasmeier’s four years.
“It’s definitely tough,” Mathiasmeier said. “The other girls have a chance next year to do better and I’m left with this. It’s not how I planned to end my college career, but you know that’s the way it happens sometimes.”
Hoping to build on last year’s 28-6 record, the Bulls had lofty goals this season. Unfortunately, Mathiasmeier’s final season had a disappointing conclusion, but it won’t overshadow the memorable accomplishments of her career.
“I’m not going to look back on my whole college career based on one year,” Mathiasmeier said. “There are many different experiences I’ve had as an athlete here at USF and this is not going to be the only memory I’ll have. There are definitely a lot of good times that I’m going to look back on. This is not going to cloud that.”
- Anthony Gagliano covers volleyball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org