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Bulls in search of their smile

After finishing 30-7 as Conference USA Champions and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2002, USF volleyball had a lot to smile about.

However, this season the Bulls must replace Michelle Collier, a third-team All-American last season and a two-time C-USA Player of the Year.

“It’s very different from last year,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “It’s a whole different look to the team. We lost (four) starters.”

Besides Collier, who was C-USA player of the year, the Bulls also lost two-time C-USA Setter of the Year Ale Domingos, libero Maryann Mooney and outside hitter Jolene Patton.

“Obviously, we don’t have Michelle Collier or Ale Domingos, and that’s going to make a difference, but we do have a lot of good players,” Mueller said.

The Bulls added five new players to offset the loss, including senior outside hitter Fran Pozzi, a transfer from San Diego State.

The new-look team opens up its season tonight at 7 p.m. at the Corral against Loyola-Chicago in the USF Best Western Invitational. The Bulls will also face Georgia and Stetson on Saturday in the four-team tournament.

“I think it’s a good opener for us,” Mueller said. “We have Loyola-Chicago, who I believe won their conference last year. Georgia had a very good season, and Stetson is always a good instate rival for us. (So) I think it’s a good opener for us to see what we’re capable of right away.”

Pozzi should offer something similar to Collier, who is a friend and fellow Brazilian.

“I think coming from the same country we have the same basic steps, but we are totally different players,” Pozzi said. “We are different but we have the same style of game.”

“We have big shoes to fill,” Pozzi said.

Despite the comparisons to her friend, replacing Collier doesn’t scare Pozzi.

“There’s always pressure. Michelle is a great person, a great hitter and a great player,” Pozzi said. “I think she did great, and I follow her step and try to keep up.

“The pressure is a good pressure. It is motivation to get as good as Michelle or even better.”

Pozzi will be joined on the floor by returning players such as junior Shameka Mitchell and 2003 All C-USA preseason selection senior Bonnye Glover.

The two will provide veteran leadership to a young team searching for chemistry.

“I think right now, we just have to get chemistry and are trying to work together because all these kids have only known each other for two weeks,” Mueller said. “We are just trying to get comfortable with each other and that might take a while.”

Two more players expected to get a lot of playing time are junior setter Melayne Wootan and freshman libero Ashley Reavis.

Wootan transferred from Scottsdale Community College last year and saw limited playing time behind Domingos.

Reavis, out of Summit High school in Dillon, Colo., is the first player strictly recruited for the libero position, which was implemented last season.

“We’ve really tried to put (Collier and Domingos) in the past because there’s nothing you can do,” Mueller said. “Players come and go. You just have to make (do) with what you have, and we are coming into our own. I think it will be a little different style play, but it will definitely be a fun style like traditionally we’ve had.”

With all the new faces, the Bulls will play the same quick game that they have had in years past under Mueller’s tutelage, once they gain more ball control.

“We will try and keep the same tempo,” Mueller said. “We are missing a little bit of ball control, but that’s coming along every day.”