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Gators mark Mitchell for special attention

USF volleyball’s 3-0 loss to the University of Florida was, in large part, due to the attention UF devoted to shutting down Bulls’ middle blocker Shameka Mitchell.

Mitchell entered Tuesday’s event averaging over 14 kills per match, the second highest in Conference USA. The Gators ensured she fell far below her average, recording just one kill in each of the first two games and finishing with six total kills. Her four kills in the third, game sparked a Bulls rally that saw them come back from a 15-8 deficit to pull within one point at 16-15. The Gators, however, scored 14 of the game’s final 19 points to put the match away.

UF has firsthand experience of the threat posed by the junior. Mitchell led the Bulls with 12 kills when the Gators defeated USF 3-1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season en route to a Final Four berth. Mitchell’s performance in that game was still fresh in UF coaches’ minds.

“Our players were very familiar with Shameka. She gave us fits a year ago,” Gators coach Mary Wise said. “We talked to the team, (telling them) that we would not play a better jumper all year in terms of how quick she gets off the floor and how high she elevates. She is hard to defend, and she got a lot of our attention.”

Mitchell said the Bulls’ defeat was not due to the Gators’ success at denying her kills. The loss, she said, was because the team failed to remain focused during the match, causing it to succeed only in patches.

The Bulls jumped out to an early lead in Game 1 and stayed close until the Gators pulled ahead after a 7-1 run. The lack of a threatening attack hampered the team’s ability to maintain a lead.

“I’m used to (the extra attention),” Mitchell said. “Other teams have tried to focus more on me before, but I don’t think it really affects the team. We just played with a lot of inconsistencies this game. Other teams can play with (UF) if they can just stay focused and consistent.”