Grueling string starts for USF volleyball team

Two five-set matches tested the Bulls’ stamina Saturday, but the USF volleyball team might have a bigger challenge in front of them this weekend. The Bulls (1-2) open their home schedule with Northeastern Thursday and three games in two days as part of the second annual USF Best Western Invitational Friday and Saturday.
“We have rest here,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “Ten games in one day is very hard to play, especially at the level they were playing at. Four games in three days? They’d rather do that than practice any day.
“I think it’ll be (not only) physically taxing, but emotional as well,” Mueller said. “To get yourself mentally prepared for that many matches in a row, it’s something we need to get better at. I’m anxious to see if we can play three days in a row because it’s very similar to the conference tournament.”
Facing competition like USF did at the Howdy’s Pepperdine Classic will also help get the Bulls prepared for the rigors of Conference USA play. The Bulls went through the wringer Saturday, as the team squandered a 2-1 lead against No. 8 Pepperdine to lose in five games, then had to come back and rally from a fifth-set deficit vs. Clemson to secure USF’s first victory of the season. Even more demanding than the physical toll of four games in three days could be the mental focus necessary to not overlook SMU and Southwest Missouri State Saturday on the final day of the Best Western Invitational.
“Four games in a row at home,” senior Michelle Collier said. “Physically, we’re ready. We can’t wait to play at home. Even though we have to go to class Thursday and Friday, after that it’s volleyball. (But) we have to get our minds prepared.”
Northeastern (3-0) opens the weekend, and the Huskies are coming in on a roll. At the Colgate Invitational, Northeastern commenced the 2002 season with three straight victories. While wiping away St. Francis, Colgate and Tulsa, the Huskies failed to drop a game behind the play of Lindsay Wagner, who registered 35 kills and 37 digs in three matches.
The Bulls will serve as Stetson’s first game of the season when the two face off in the second game of the Best Western Invitational 7:30 p.m. Friday. Southwest Missouri State and SMU open the round-robin tournament at 5 p.m. Friday.
With a jam-packed schedule, health is one of Mueller’s biggest concerns. Sophomore Rachel Jobes and senior Maryann Mooney each missed practice Wednesday with injuries. Jobes, who made the all-tournament team at the Pepperdine Classic, was nursing a strained groin and skipped practice in order to be ready for this weekend. Mooney continues to be hampered by an ankle injury that kept her out of all but three matches last season.
“(Maryann)’s fighting through it everyday,” Mueller said. “According to her, she’s playing every match. According to me and what we’ll need her for, we may pull her from a match just so she can be ready to go the next day. If we want her for two matches on Saturday, I probably won’t let her play on Friday night.
“Once we get started, the adrenaline starts flowing, and we forget our injuries and move on.”