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More experienced Bulls make return trip to NCAAs

While not appearing in the NCAA Tournament since 2000, South Florida volleyball will be helped by their recent experience heading into this year’s tournament.

For the second time this postseason, the Bulls will be posed with the challenge of not looking ahead.

“We just have to focus on the match at hand because we have a big target on our back,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “We know that and must focus on the match at hand.”

USF will play Florida State to open the 2002 NCAA Tournament in Gainesville Friday at 5 p.m.

The winner of that match will play the winner of the Central Florida vs. Florida match at 7 p.m. Friday.

With USF having beaten the Seminoles 3-2 earlier this season, and No. 5 Florida (30-2) being a team that the Bulls are 9-29 against since 1976, South Florida will be tempted to look to the next challenge.

“Since we are playing FSU, and we have the ability to beat them, we will be looking at the next game,” senior Maryann Mooney said.

The Bulls (29-6) should be aware of the fact that FSU has an extra incentive to defeat the Bulls.

“Florida State is looking to seek revenge, so we are going to have to play our best just to get past them,” Mueller said.

The Bulls defeated the Seminoles (21-12) Oct. 29 at the Sun Dome, despite being out-hit .220-.185 and being defeated in the blocking category 23-22.

“We are pretty confident,” Mooney said. “We have one win, and they are going to be gunning for us. It was such an intense match, I don’t think it will be any different.”

The victory still has USF feeling confident that it might face the Gators.

The last time USF was victorious against the Gators was 1988 in Tampa when the Bulls won 15-13, 11-15, 15-12, 11-15, 15-9.

“We definitely want to play Florida,” senior Michelle Collier said. “Personally, I think we should have a better seed than playing Florida.”

South Florida faced a similar test in the Conference USA Tournament when they had the possibility of meeting Louisville, who had defeated the Bulls in the ’98 and ’00 finals, as well as beating them 3-1 just days before.

USF will use this experience to maintain its focus and worry about the match at hand before the next challenge.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year, especially in the conference tournament,” Mueller said. “We wanted to play Louisville, but we knew we had to take it one match at a time.”

The Bulls defeated the Cardinals to win the C-USA Tournament Championship after playing one game at a time, a practice that USF will need to follow this weekend.

“I think our tournament last week is a good indication because we had Louisville in the C-USA Tournament,” Mooney said. “We showed we had each team in mind.”

USF overcame Louisville behind the play of Collier, who had 24 kills and 13 digs.

Collier is the only remaining player from the 1998 team that went to the NCAA Tournament after losing in the C-USA Tournament finals.

“I expect to play for three more weeks,” Collier said. “The only team that can stop us is ourselves.”

The Bulls may be the only team that can stop themselves, but starting with FSU, every team they face will be a good team because of the level of play involved in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think its going to be a high level of volleyball,” senior Ale Domingos said. “I think that the better team is going to win. It’s going to be tough to play a No. 5 seed in the second game.”

USF has been placed in a region that includes No. 4 Northern Iowa, No. 5 Florida, No. 12 Washington State and No. 13 Penn State.

“They’re in a tough region, but they are a tough team,” USF Athletics Director Lee Roy Selmon said. “We’re pulling for Nancy and our team to play their best. That’s all we can ask them to do, and because of that, they’ve had a great year.”