Team before self health

Volleyball players relentlessly throw their bodies to the floor refusing to let the ball drop, putting aside all thoughts of bodily harm as their knees and elbows crash and their heads bounce off the hard court.

“When you are there playing the ball, all you are thinking about is keeping the ball in play,” senior setter Ale Domingos said. “I don’t think when we dive we think about (hitting the ground). It’s just like a natural part of the game that we develop the same way we develop the other skills. We just make sure the ball is up.”

Volleyball players dive in a way that will produce the greatest possible chance of passing the ball.

They lean into their dive with a knee bent and their hitting-arm straight out ready to deflect the ball.

“You’re going for the ball and your arm goes out, and that’s when you roll, after you pass it,” sophomore Shameka Mitchell said. “The ball is what you are supposed to hit first, and then you worry about yourself.”

Even with the fact that their bodies will crash into the ground, the players still think ball first, body second.

“By the time they get here, they aren’t that hesitant,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “Before they get here most of them know how to hit the floor, but we do coach certain techniques so they will be more careful.

“We teach them how to hit the floor so it doesn’t hurt so bad, and they can get up quicker.”

Most players learn the proper ways of falling at an early age.

“In Brazil, they partner you off and you hold someone’s hand. They go with you and put your knee down to the floor, and you learn how to extend and not to fold your body too much,” Domingos said. “They are just techniques that are going to prevent injuries.”

Since injuries on dives do not occur that much, bodies are thrown at risk, and when injuries do occur, they are considered freak injuries.

USF senior Maryann Mooney had one of those “freak injuries” early this week in practice while rolling during a defensive drill.

Mooney hit her head on the floor, leaving her with a headache.

“It just happens. It was no one’s fault,” Mueller said. “She hit her head, and we’ll move on. She is a day-by-day situation.”

Although in volleyball injuries don’t happen that often, sliding is as tough as any other sport.

“People compare a volleyball slide to a baseball slide, but it’s not like that,” Mitchell said. “When you are doing a volleyball slide, you have to have your technique on how you’re going to pass the ball down all the way until you are about to fall, and then you roll and get back up.”

The Bulls (14-4, 2-0 in Conference USA) will need technically sound rolls and dives this weekend when they go on their first C-USA road trip of the season, facing Tulane Friday and Southern Miss (10-8, 2-1) Saturday.

The Green Wave (9-9, 1-1) has the current C-USA player of the week, Britney Hurst, who has 353 kills this season.

“We are going to try to just contain her,” Mueller said. “Britney is going to get a lot of swings. She is a very athletic, tough kid that has worked her way up through the ranks.”

Earlier this season, Tulane’s setter Katie Case went down with an anterior cruciate ligament injury and freshman Ellen Kelli Dickson took over the setting duties.

Digs will be a requirement when the Bulls face Hurst and Tulane.

“If we can contain her and just let her swing, then we can play some defense,” Mueller said. “If we can block her a couple of times, then we can shut her down and keep her to attempts, slow the ball down with the blocks, dig her a couple of times, just keep her to attempts instead of kills.