The comings and goings of ’02

10 Championship turnaround

The USF volleyball team steamrolled through the Conference USA regular season until it got matched up with Louisville. The Cardinals have been the Bulls’ nemesis, knocking off USF in the finals of the 1998 and 2000 C-USA tournaments. USF went to Louisville with a perfect record in conference Nov. 16, but left Freedom Hall with a 3-1 loss and the No. 2 seed in the tournament behind the Cardinals. It seemed like destiny when the two got matched up again in the finals. This time, the Bulls plowed through Louisville in three games to win the 2002 C-USA Tournament and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, where the Bulls knocked off Florida State in the first round before losing to the host Florida Gators 3-1 in the second round.

9 End of an era

They put up impressive numbers, but the lasting impression will be the number zero. That’s the number of NCAA appearances the USF men’s basketball team made under the so-called dynamic duo of B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson. The Bulls went to the NIT twice but lost in the first round both times, including a 98-92 loss to Ball State in March concluding Waldon’s and Jackson’s careers.

Both finished their careers in the top five in all-time scoring at USF, and Jackson became the leading scorer in the history of C-USA. Waldon finished as the school’s leading rebounder and No. 2 in steals.

8 Climbing back in it

A loss in the first game of the NCAA regional seemed to spell a quick exit for the USF baseball team. The Bulls flashed a determined effort in dragging themselves out of the hole that their 6-1 defeat to UCF on the first day put them in. Things looked even bleaker when USF had a six-run deficit in the seventh against Stetson in an elimination game.

The Bulls got some help from the Hatters and pulled out a 14-13 win on Myron Leslie’s sacrifice fly in the ninth. Ryan Gloger then pitched a gem in the nightcap Saturday to give the Bulls two wins and advance them to the regional final against the host Seminoles.

The Bulls took an early lead on the top-ranked Seminoles, but a seven-run fifth helped seal Florida State’s 13-6 win and advance FSU to the super regionals.

7 Stability out

Sherry Bedingfield had been a stalwart in USF athletics. With a 23-year tenure as the coach of the USF women’s tennis team, Bedingfield was an institution for the university.

Back-to-back losing seasons, only two of the five sub .500 seasons she had since taking the job in 1980, and a lengthy stay convinced Bedingfield it was the right time to make the decision to retire. A player with the Bulls in 1970, Bedingfield led the Bulls to 346 wins, 10 conference championships and four NCAA appearances.

Bedingfield also demanded her players work just as hard in the classroom, and the results show it. Since 1990, her teams had at least a 3.12 grade point average, with the 2000 team registering a 3.71 cumulative GPA.

6 Surprising exit

After 23 years as a coach at USF, Bedingfield’s exit wasn’t completely unexpected.

But the resignation of USF men’s soccer coach John Hackworth in April was a surprise. Coming off a berth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament where USF lost 1-0 to Penn State in triple overtime, Hackworth’s 2001 team was one of the most successful in the program’s history.

The lure of working full-time as an assistant with the U.S. Under-17 National team proved to be too much, and the Bulls were in search of another new coach.

In four seasons, Hackworth compiled a 47-32-2 record with a coach of the year award in 1998, when he guided the Bulls to the C-USA regular season and tournament titles.

UConn assistant George Kiefer replaced him, and the Bulls went 11-7, losing in overtime of the first round of the C-USA tournament.

5 Gigi

Looking to make a big splash in their replacement for Bedingfield, the Bulls tabbed doubles great Gigi Fernandez to be the new USF women’s tennis coach July 11. The winner of 17 Grand Slam tournaments on the WTA Tour, Fernandez was the high profile hire that USF was looking for in the wake of replacing Bedingfield. The hiring made big news, appearing in all the papers and on ESPN.

A singles semifinalist at Wimbledon and a two-time Olympic gold medalist in doubles, Fernandez retired from professional tennis in 1997 at the age of 33. She started taking classes at USF last year, and when Bedingfield retired, USF Associate Athletic Director Barry Clements made Fernandez his No. 1 choice.

4 Oklahoma, where the wind goes rushing down the plains

The biggest game ever gets tossed around often when talking about USF’s 6-year-old football program. But playing in front of 78,000 Sooner faithful in Norman against a team one year removed from the national championship certainly applies.

The reunion of USF’s Jim Leavitt and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, co-defensive coordinators at Kansas State in the early 1990s, was a scoreless contest after one quarter. The Bulls appeared to get on the scoreboard first with a trick play, but Marquel Blackwell’s lateral turned into a forward pass and Brian Fisher then threw another forward pass, negating a touchdown. The Sooners scored two plays later on an Antonio Perkins punt return, and the Bulls never climbed back in it. Backup Ronnie Banks threw two touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter to make the final score 31-14. USF Athletics Director and former Sooner great Lee Roy Selmon received a hero’s welcome at halftime when the home crowd honored the two-time All-American.

3 In the path of an avalanche

Visiting a program of Oklahoma’s stature is impressive, but it’s not every day the defending national champions in the midst of a record-setting win streak come calling. Just squeaking in before the New Year, the USF women’s basketball team hosted UConn Dec. 28. The Huskies were unstoppable in 2001-02, going undefeated en route to the national championship, their second in three years. In front of their largest crowd ever, the Bulls managed to stay with the Huskies, but succumbed to coach Geno Auriemma’s squad 72-56. UConn improved to 10-0, as USF became the 49th straight opponent to taste defeat against the Huskies. The streak continues as UConn beat Tennessee in overtime Saturday to push it to 51. That string is three games shy of the all-time record set by Louisiana Tech in 1980-82.

2 No place like … Tampa?

USF football coach Jim Leavitt has often echoed the words of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz when he talks about his job — there’s no place like home. But that love was put to the test this offseason when Alabama came knocking at Leavitt’s door.

When Crimson Tide coach Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M Dec. 6, one of college football’s most prestigious programs went in search of a coach, and Leavitt stood near the top of their list. With the legacy of the legendary Bear Bryant, multiple national championships and the opportunity to make more than a million dollars, Alabama had much to offer.

That offer never materialized though, as USF President Judy Genshaft and Selmon came up with an offer Leavitt couldn’t refuse — a five-year contract extension, which nearly quadrupled his salary. So, Leavitt, a graduate of Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, agreed to stay and lead the Bulls into C-USA in 2003.

1 Hawaii or bust

It was without a doubt, the most asked question about USF in 2002: Will the Bulls go to a bowl game? It was the top story in USF sports, but in the end, it had nothing to do with the Bulls.

Instead, the 9-2 Bulls had to watch on TV as a pair of teams with losing records decided their fate in Greenville, N.C. The collective reaction was a giant groan as USF watched Cincinnati crush its dream of a Christmas in Hawaii when the Bearcats beat East Carolina 42-26 Dec. 6.

With a 6-6 mark, Cincinnati became bowl eligible and snuck its way into the New Orleans Bowl. In a sort of cruel irony for Bulls’ fans, North Texas, which USF beat 24-17 earlier in the season, pummeled the Bearcats 24-19, intercepting Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli five times.

Two days earlier, the Bulls reached an agreement with the Hawaii Bowl, where if C-USA didn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams, USF, a conference member in football starting in 2003, would go to the game in Honolulu Dec. 25.

But the Bearcats’ win crushed the Bulls’ dreams of appearing in their first bowl game, meaning USF will have to wait until this season when they’ll be eligible for one of C-USA’s five bowl bids.