USF impresses with two hard-fought victories

South Florida volleyball saw its 12-match home winning streak, which started Oct. 23, come to an end Saturday, despite playing an impressive Adidas Invitational Tournament.

The Bulls (7-3) opened the tournament by defeating No. 24 Kansas State Friday and Georgia Tech Saturday in two come-from-behind victories.

“There were some great teams that came out. We played very well,” senior Jolene Patton said. “We came together as a team, and I think we improved since the Pepperdine tournament.

“We’re playing together, and everybody is doing their job. We’re trying to get better and compete with these ranked teams.”

The Bulls lost to No. 19 Michigan State 30-27, 33-35, 23-30, 24-30 after defeating the Yellow Jackets 30-28, 28-30, 28-30, 30-21, 15-12 and Wildcats 24-30, 30-25, 30-24, 30-28.

“It was an unfortunate ending, but we had a great weekend,” coach Nancy Mueller said. “I think we came out with the same level of intensity, but I think they exploited some of our weaknesses, and that was our blocking and our defense against the slides on the right side of the attack.”

Against the Spartans (7-2), the Bulls came back in the first set from a 12-6 deficit to go on a 14-3 run and go ahead 1-0. After a grueling second game, in which the Bulls refused to let come to an end, going to four game-point situations, MSU pulled away.

“We were just saying this is not going to let us down,” Michelle Collier said. We’ve proved we are a good team for everybody that doubted that. We’re just going to play the same volleyball we’ve been playing.”

Even with the disappointing loss, in which USF’s defense and ball control wasn’t up to par, the tournament was still considered a success.

“We lost a little bit of our ball control, and we weren’t capitalizing on some of their mistakes, especially their missed serves and overpasses,” Mueller said. “Their middles and their right sides really took advantage of us.”

The Bulls used two exciting wins against the Wildcats and Yellow Jackets to further establish themselves as a quality team to the rest of the nation.

“I told the kids, ‘you have nothing to be ashamed of, you earned a lot of respect for this program and this conference this weekend’,” Mueller said. “I was proud of them.”

To start out the tournament against the Wildcats (4-4), USF went behind 1-0 and then turned on the defensive intensity and never looked back.

In the three Bulls’ victories, they outplayed the Wildcats in digs 14-11, 20-16, 19-17. Offensively, Michelle Collier recorded 28 kills, including nine in the match-winner.

“She’s special,” Mueller said. “One of the thing we tell our setters is you feed the hot hand, and she was killing the ball, and to keep feeding her until they stop.”

“It’s nice to see that against very good quality teams, we have players that can step up like that.”

Collier also came up big against the Yellow Jackets, when she had her second 30-kill match of the season, as well as a double-double with 35 kills and 13 digs. After going behind 2-1, Collier took it to the Yellow Jackets (9-2) with 13 kills in Game 4 followed by nine in a 15-point fifth game.

“Adrenaline is just running through me, so I stopped thinking about it, and I am just going to play as well as I can and if it goes through, it goes through,” Collier said. “We all knew that we had to turn it up a notch if we wanted to win. So, I guess it’s just like, ‘OK now it’s time to start playing.’ We had nothing to lose.”

Even with Collier’s gaudy statistics, she was not the Bulls’ star. Freshman Corinne Walsh scored an ace at match-point with the score at 14-12 to defeat a Yellow Jacket team which earlier in the tournament defeated the Spartans 22-30, 32-30, 28-30, 23-30.

“That was like a dogfight, five games, back and forth,” Patton said. “I think we were really evenly matched with them. If you look at both of our teams, we are really close so it was like a dogfight back and forth. So that was good to win that one.”

The Bulls now look to regain momentum after having their seven-game winning streak snapped when they travel to Florida Atlantic Tuesday.

“I think we learned a lot about ourselves, and it’s a good feeling to know that we can play at this level and possibly play at a little higher,” Mueller said. “I think we learned that we can’t dig ourselves in a hole because it’s too hard to get ourselves out.”