NCAA respect comes to USF

South Florida volleyball had its first 30-win season this year, since 1986 when it finished 34-12 under coach Debbie Richardson. However its biggest accomplishment this season has nothing to do with statistics.

USF earned respect and set the standard for future Bulls’ teams by advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

After starting the season 0-2, including a loss to No. 8 Pepperdine, USF went on to win seven consecutive games, including wins against No. 22 Kansas State, Georgia Tech and Conference USA preseason No. 2 Cincinnati, before finishing the season 30-7.

USF posted a 29-6 record before the NCAA Tournament, after sharing the Conference USA regular season title with Louisville and winning the C-USA Tournament.

Then, the Bulls traveled to Gainesville for a Florida showdown with FSU and UF in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulls split the two games, defeating FSU in the first round before losing to No. 5 seed Florida in the second.

“I thought they were a team no one wanted to play,” UF coach Mary Wise said. “They did not get respect in the seeding for a team as good as they are.”

The two teams played a close set in the first game of the match, going to five game points before the Gators scored the decisive point on senior Michelle Collier’s error to win the game 35-33.

The Gators then showed why they are a team that advanced to the semifinals in the NCAA tournament by hitting .450 to defeat the Bulls 30-24.

USF won its only game of the match containing UF to .122 hitting percentage behind Collier’s seven kills and senior Jolene Patton’s .417 hitting.

UF sealed the match by putting USF away 30-18 in Game 4. In the final set, the Gators held the Bulls to .105 hitting, including containing Collier to a minus .083 percentage.

“We gave UF a run for their money,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “We played exceptionally well. UF had to beat us. We did not lose to this team.

“I think we earned a lot of respect for our program.”

The Bulls earned that respect by pushing UF further than any other team had in a second-round match.

“I knew it would take all of our A game to beat them,” Wise said. “It was one of the toughest wins we had all year.

“We have never played a team as talented as USF in the second round.”

One of the reasons for the respect earned by this USF team was Collier.

Collier leaves USF as C-USA’s all-time career kills leader with 2,729, and was ranked No. 6 in the nation with 5.63 kills per game this season.

Her awards were only half of her asset to the Bulls, and her leadership and team attitude were a big part of USF’s success. After her final loss, she left it all on the court with tears streaming down her face.

“We had a great team. I am going to miss USF,” Collier said, “I’m sad it’s over. Our players were talented, and everything we built will go on to our school’s future.”

Collier added several awards to the trophy case this year, including South Florida volleyball’s first All-American, when she was named to the third team.

She was also named C-USA preseason player of the year, player of the year, C-USA Tournament MVP and Regional All-American team.

“Michelle is one of the most special talents in the entire country,” Wise said. “Michelle can go for 100 swings and wake up and be fine tomorrow.”

In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Bulls came out like a team demanding respect, eliminating the Seminoles 30-21, 30-19, 30-28.

“We played a solid match,” Mueller said. “We were able to keep FSU’s hitting percentage down.”

USF used 12 total team blocks to keep the Seminoles to .071 hitting.

“We had good blocking,” Mueller said. “For us to have 12 blocks was good. It was some of our best blocking all year.”