What was supposed to be the USF volleyball team’s toughest match of the year turned out to be one of its easiest.
Facing a team that had spoiled their undefeated conference season last week and took the No. 1 seed, the Bulls swept Louisville 3-0 (30-27, 30-24, 30-20) for the Conference USA championship Monday night at the DePaul Athletic Center in Chicago before 1,446 fans.
It was their third C-USA championship in eight years.
“This was sweet,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “We came out with a game plan, played hard and executed well. We wanted to contain them, and I can’t complain at all.”
As they have done all year, the Bulls rode on the shoulders of senior Michelle Collier. Collier, the 2002 C-USA Player of the Year, set the tone for the match, starting from the first game. She came out blasting with several devastating kills as the Bulls raced to a 15-12 lead. However, the match went back and forth, as no team got a comfortable lead. After a series of neck-and-neck serves, the Bulls were up 29-27 when Collier faked the kill and delivered a soft floater that pierced the heart of Louisville’s defense to win the game 30-27. The Bulls hit .308 for the match, compared to Louisville’s .237.
“Winning the (first game) was a big motivator for us,” Mueller said. “It was a huge hump we wanted to get over.”
Louisville woke up, galloping to a 7-5 lead, but it wouldn’t last for long. The Bulls came back to take an 10-8 advantage. When the score was 15-12, Louisville took a timeout to stop the bombardment. The Cardinals clawed to a 16-16 tie, but it wasn’t enough, as the Bulls ran their lead to 27-23 after kills by sophomore Shameka Mitchell and Collier. Up 29-23, Mitchell delivered a booming kill as the Cardinals’ blocking attempt was futile, wrapping up the second game 30-24.
“I told the team to sustain the level of play they were at,” Mueller said. “They were very focused and I told them, ‘Let’s play to win.’
In the third game, it was all Bulls. In what started out to be a close game, the Bulls and Cardinals exchanged tie after tie, but, knotted at 10, the Bulls went on a 7-1 run to lead 17-11. Taking their biggest lead of the match at 23-17, Collier’s kills were wearing away at the Cardinals defense.
Up 29-20, it was obvious who the ball was going to.
Off a pass from setter Ale Domingos, Collier struck her 24th and final kill of the match, completing the Bulls’ 19th sweep of the season and their first victory against the Cardinals this year. After the kill, the team stormed the court, formed a pile and jumped up and down with joy.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Mueller said. “This was a very good team we played, and Collier had a fabulous tournament. Domingos was unbelievable, and that really helped our hitters with confidence.”
Domingos, who led all players with 42 assists en route to the Tournament MVP, knew that after Mueller’s pre-game speech, the Bulls would be ready to play.
“She told us to play our game and have fun,” Domingos said. “When we go out and have fun, we play our best games.”
Mitchell had 14 kills on 22 attempts for a .545 hitting percentage, while Collier racked up 24 kills and 13 digs, helping lead the Bulls to a .363 hitting percentage.
For Collier, this game was one of revenge and redemption.
“I wanted this so bad,” she said. “We played so well. The team just told me to come out swinging, and not be tentative. Our fans, bench and family were into it, and we played unbelievable.”
Contact Oracle staff writer Thomas Carrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org