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School’s out for USF

Class is over, and now it is time for the USF volleyball team to take what they have learned and apply it to the real world;

The Conference USA season.

The Bulls open conference play this weekend when they host East Carolina tonight and Charlotte (9-7) Saturday.

“We definitely learned from all the games we played, even the ones we won,” senior Michelle Collier said. “We never took anything for granted. I don’t think in conference we can be in any situation that we haven’t seen before.”

USF has a 12-4 record this season in which they lost games both to higher level opponents, such as No. 12 Pepperdine, and teams such as Western Michigan (5-9). USF learned that they lost games because of sluggish defense, taking its opponents for granted, lack of accuracy and other reasons.

“I think we’re ready to go for conference,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “I’m very, very satisfied with what we’ve been able to achieve.”

Preseason ranked No. 3 in Conference USA, the Bulls know they will have the pressure on them with every opponent gunning for them.

“Louisville and Cincinnati were picked Nos. 1 and 2, and we were picked third, so there is some pressure,” Collier said. “We are going to play every match like it is the championship finals.”

With conference rankings of second with a .242 hitting percentage and

14 assists per game, the Bulls have good reason to be confident that they will be in the finals when it is all said and done.

“I think we’re doing better and better,” freshman Corinne Walsh said. “We haven’t hit our peak yet, but when it happens, we’ll be even better.”

But before USF can think conference finals, they must get past the Pirates and 49ers this weekend.

Not only is this game important to win for rankings and statistical reasons, but the Bulls must start conference play hard and strong to build confidence for themselves, and to help strike fear throughout the conference as to why the Bulls have the second most wins in the conference.

“We want to come out strong, and I think we need to make a statement early,” Mueller said. “So I think we are pretty fired up for conference play.”

The Bulls should come into this weekend on their toes even though they are playing an East Carolina team that is not among the elite in the conference with a 4-11 record.

The Pirates are second to last with only four wins. They have the lowest hitting percentage and assists per game in the conference with .159 and 10.52 respectively, and also are No. 1 in the conference with a .272 opponent hitting percentage.

“(East Carolina coach) Coleen (Munson) is a very good coach,” Mueller said. “She’s young, and she’s new and has a lot of energy, and I think that will be reflected in her athletes.”

One of the things that Munson and the rest of the conference will have to look out for and try to contain is Collier. She currently leads the conference with an average of 5.56 kills per game and ranks second in service aces with 0.62 per game.

With her gaudy statistics, Collier knows teams will be looking out for her, but she is confident in her teammates.

“Yeah, (teams will key in on me), but there are five other players on the court that can take care of business,” Collier said.

With conference play ready to get started, the Bulls will need to use all their tools and the knowledge they gained over the non-conference season.

“It definitely is going to be a dogfight because any team can win at any given minute,” Collier said.