One of the ways sports becomes an intense battle is through rivalry, pitting two teams together in a game usually more intense than others.
A rival is defined as one striving for competitive advantage, which for South Florida volleyball the Conference USA title.
The Bulls currently are 4-0 and in first place in C-USA, followed by Saint Louis, also with a 4-0 record. The Bulls’ 17-4 overall record tops the Billikens’ 14-6.
The closeness in conference position makes the Billikens a possible rival.
Another making of a rival is the closeness in location.
The Bulls recently played one of their biggest in-state rivals when they defeated Central Florida 30-23, 26-30, 28-30, 30-28, 15-7 Tuesday.
“I think Central Florida is always going to be a big rival, and Saint Louis has been a pretty even match,” coach Nancy Mueller said. “I think it depends on the caliber and the importance of the match.”
As far as which one is the bigger rival, conference position takes precedence.
“Each one has its merits. Saint Louis is the same as us at 4-0, and they have five returning starters, and an in-state match is always key for us,” Mueller said. “But the bigger rival will be Saint Louis.”
With the stronger opposing team, the importance and the caliber of the match usually increases.
For the Bulls, there are fewer matches more important than against Louisville or Cincinnati, who were ranked C-USA preseason Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, while USF was selected No. 3. The Bulls play at Cincinnati Nov. 15 and at Louisville Nov. 16.
“Louisville and Cincinnati are our biggest rivals in the conference,” senior Michelle Collier said. “We are always rivals with Louisville and Cincinnati because we are fighting for the top of the conference.”
In-state tensions, closeness in position and ranking all influence rivalries.
“Traditionally we (USF and UCF) have had good teams so it’s always been a tough game to play,” Collier said. “Same thing when we play any in-state team. We don’t want to lose to an in-state team.”
USF and Saint Louis will play out their rivalry Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Corral after the Bulls host Memphis (13-8, 0-3) Friday at 7 p.m.
“(Saint Louis) is a tough match for us every year,” Mueller said. “I can say this: I’m very glad that we are playing Saint Louis at home this year. I think that we will have a home-court advantage, and we are going to need that doing against a team that is very good.”
Bryan Fazio covers USF volleyball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org