Bulls close regular season with win

When the Bulls needed a lift to get them over the top against Jacksonville, sophomore Michelle Stalbaum took the helm.

The USF volleyball team closed out the regular season with a win over the Dolphins 30-19, 27-30, 25-30, 31-29, 15-10 in the Corral Tuesday. The win was a boost of confidence for the Bulls, who were on a two-match losing streak.

The game marks the second consecutive home match that went to five games. USF defeated Memphis in five games to claim its final conference victory Nov. 6.

“We like to make things interesting. I’m glad it was a win. It really boosted our morale and hopefully it gives us a push going into (the) conference (tournament),” USF coach Claire Lessinger said.

Four Bulls’ players had double-digits in kills on the evening, giving them 72 to Jacksonville’s 60.

USF didn’t get the win easy, coming from behind to win the fourth and fifth games of the match. The Bulls were carried by their 14 serve aces, a season high. Stalbaum had seven aces alone.

“Stalbaum was key for us,” junior Kelsi Andrew-Wasylik said. “She has a wicked jump serve and when it’s on, she’s unstoppable.”

USF started the match hot, hitting a scorching .444 percent in Game 1. USF’s offense was in sync, forcing six Dolphin errors in the first game. The Bulls took game one 30-19.

Jacksonville made adjustments in Game 2, switching out setter Erin Donovan for Erin Hickman, a taller setter the Bulls didn’t have an answer for. The Dolphins blocked six of USF’s shots in Game 2 with the taller lineup.

Despite Flavia Silveira’s 11 kills in Game 2, the Bulls couldn’t overcome Jacksonville’s size, losing Game 2 with a score of 30-27.

“I knew they were going to pick it up in Game 2,” Lessinger said. “We made a lot more errors than Jacksonville in Games 2 and 3.”

USF couldn’t match Jacksonville’s intensity and became lethargic.

“We did a lot of good things in Game 1, but in Game 2 their adjustments caused a lot of problems for us,” Andrew-Wasylik said.

USF came out flat again in Game 3, committing nine errors to Jacksonville’s two and losing the game 30-25.

The Bulls got their act together in Game 4 behind Stalbaum’s strong serves. Trailing 15-12, Stalbaum got a kill assisted by Andrew-Wasylik. Stalbaum went on to serve for 12 straight points to take the lead 24-15.

“Michelle’s serving got us in the match emotionally and had a huge run,” Lessinger said.

Then Jacksonville never recovered.

In Game 5, USF put together a solid offensive performance to keep the Dolphins at bay. The Bulls had eight kills to Jacksonville’s three.

Where USF couldn’t find a rhythm in its previous games, its defense solidified at the right moment, stifling Jacksonville’s offense with eight digs.

Stalbaum had her most complete game of the season by accumulating 13 kills and a season-best 20 digs. Silveira added a match-high 22 kills while committing only five errors to hit .340 in the match.

“We started out rough defensively, but we picked it up at the end and took it personally,” Sophomore Johari Williams said. “We weren’t going out without a fight.”

With the win, the Bulls improve to 7-4 at home this season. USF has enjoyed success at home this season winning five of its seven home conference matches at the Corral.

The Bulls will travel to Louisville to participate in the Conference USA tournament Friday. USF takes on Saint Louis in the first round after the Bulls fell to the 10th seed. USF defeated Saint Louis 3-0 less than two weeks ago in the Corral due to a strong performance from freshman Kristina Fabris.

However, the Bulls will have to overcome their road woes. USF only managed two wins on the road in 16 road matches this season and hasn’t won a road game since Sept. 16.