Leaving the past behind

South Florida volleyball is looking to forget last season’s woes and come out of the gate strong to start the 2002 campaign.

At the conclusion of last season the Bulls had to forfeit the final game of the season against UCF after getting knocked out of the Conference USA tournament because of broken team rules.

“(The team’s) lesson was learned and we moved forward,” coach Nancy Mueller said. “We’re beyond it and we learned from it and will grow from it. For the most part it made us a stronger team.”

The team also used the lesson learned as a way to reassure themselves as representatives of USF.

“We’re more than just a volleyball,” Mueller said. “We have a good reputation as far as volleyball and we’re always ambassadors to the University of South Florida.”

With their opening match Friday against Michigan at the Howdy’s Pepperdine Classic the Bulls will start the season with a strong challenge.

USF will use the motivation of a conference preseason ranking of No. 3 and the conference preseason player of the year, Michelle Collier. Alessandra Domingos was nominated along with Collier to the All C-USA preseason team.

“Michelle has always been the key player on our team but the difference this year is that we have not only Michelle that can kill the ball, but I think were more as a team,” senior Alessandra Domingos said. “And I feel that every player on this team can definitely step up and play a key role for us.

Collier ranks second on the conference all-time kill list with 1,991 career kills. She led the team last season with 482 kills, 5.18 kills per game, 1,223 total attempts, 297 digs and 59 service aces.

“I always see individual accomplishments being related to how hard your team is working and how well they did the past year,” Collier said. “Volleyball is a team sport and you get individual awards but it all comes back to your team. Hopefully (it will end) with a Conference USA Championship.”

The Bulls, who lost only one senior while gaining four new players, retain the core group of players from last year.

“We have a great potential as a team. We have five starters coming back,” Domingos said. “That helped us a lot in preseason just to be together all the time, practicing twice a day. I think that helped us bond and develop a chemistry that I think we lacked a little bit last year.

“I’m looking forward to a very exciting season and a winning season.”

Setter Domingos, outside hitter Collier, outside hitter Jolene Patton, defensive specialist Faith Tarver and outside hitter Maryann Mooney are the Bulls returning seniors. Mooney was out all but three games last season due to an ankle injury.

“We have a very good core from last year,” Mueller said. “We have five returning starters but it’s been a competition daily for what we wanted to achieve.”

With a schedule that includes No. 8 Pepperdine and No. 15 Michigan State, the Bulls will use the schedule to gear up for conference play.

USF opens its conference schedule Oct. 4 against East Carolina.

“Our home schedule is great,” Collier said. “We play a lot of Top-25 teams, so hopefully we’ll get the support of all the students in the USF community. It’s all in our hands.”

The Bulls will use motivations from preseason rankings, a tough schedule and a solid core of returning players to try to win the conference championship this season and reach the NCAA championship.

“We have very high expectations of ourselves,” Mueller said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the conference and then go on to the NCAA tournament.”