Consistency needed for repeat

Its non-conference schedule proved tough, but now the USF volleyball team’s bid to repeat last year’s Conference USA title begins in earnest.

The Bulls’ non-conference schedule concluded Friday with a 3-2 loss to UCF in the Corral. Of the 16 matches played, four were against top-25 teams and one was against a team receiving votes for the top 25.

In the Bulls’ C-USA schedule, only one more ranked team, Louisville, and a team receiving votes, Cincinnati, loom. The Bulls were picked to finish No. 3 in C-USA in a preseason poll.

Regardless of the comparative easiness of the Bulls’ C-USA schedule, in current form, the road to a second consecutive C-USA title looks a little rocky.

“We need to step up and be aggressive,” USF coach Nancy Mueller said. “I’d rather have people run into each other than balls dropping.”

Inconsistencies, a problem that has plagued the Bulls since the beginning of the season, show no sign of ceasing as USF enters conference play.

“We’ve been inconsistent at most of the games that we’ve lost,” junior Shameka Mitchell said. “(We will win) if we can just key in on our consistency — and that comes with mentally being there, mentally being prepared and wanting to go in for everything.”

USF’s lack of rhythm showed Friday, when it let a 9-3 lead in the match-deciding fifth game slip away to a 16-14 loss.

“We’re kind of a roller coaster team,” Mueller said. “One time we’re on a high, then we’re on a low, then we’re on a high, then we’re on a low. We can’t play this game like that because it’s a game of errors.”

The Bulls built a 9-3 lead from a 3-3 tie on two blocks, two Golden Knights errors, a kill and an ace from Mitchell, but then let it fall out of their hands, by committing errors and missing passes.

A key to the Golden Knights’ victory was the serving of Emily Watts. Watts used her jump serve effectively, tallying seven service aces including two in the fifth game.

This was the second consecutive match that the Bulls failed to equal a jump serve. Against Florida, USF faced two players who had jump serves and allowed the Gators’ Jane Collymore to connect on four aces.

“Watts did a good job on bringing the heat on the jump serve, and we weren’t able to step up and pass it,” Mueller said. “We have to be able to pass the ball to run any kind of offense.”

USF did manage to come back and bring the score to 14-13, a match point for the Bulls, but was defeated with two kills from UCF’s Amanda Stoutjesdyk.

The Bulls did, however, have one of their better defensive outings of the season, totaling 14.5 team blocks, 23 block assists and 52 digs.

Mitchell led the Bulls’ defense with 16 blocks and had 17 kills.

“Double figures don’t mean anything if we don’t get a ‘W’,” Mitchell said. (We need to be consistent); it all winds down to that.”