Volleyball ignoring the words that surround them

Don’t use the word skid. They don’t want you to.

Don’t go anywhere near the struggling one with a 21-and-a-half foot pole, either.

It is tough to look at, but 1-7 is the record of the USF volleyball team. It stings when written out. Burns the throat and reddens the face when said.

Don’t say it to the volleyball team. Not even a titter.

The Bulls don’t believe in it. They want you to revert back to the words “Why Not?” which is still the adamant motto on the back of their shirts.

Struggling hasn’t been uttered.

“I haven’t yet used that word,” second-year coach Claire Lessinger said. “Inconsistent is one we use a lot.”

Perhaps inconsistent is more accurate than its three-syllable counterpart. That word seems tough to spit out when the team’s star player, Kristina Fabris, has 135 kills in eight matches.

“We have to be more consistent,” said Fabris, who was Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year in 2004. “If we do that, our record will show that.”

Those matches are closer than they appear. On paper it makes sense that even with the 3-1 loss to FSU on Sept. 14, the Bulls lost those three games with the biggest difference being eight points in the second match.

“We have no easy road this year,” said senior Kelsi Andrew-Wasylik, who is one of three seniors on the team. “All of the teams in the Big East have a good volleyball reputation, which makes every game a challenge for us.”

No easy road means that there must be hills to climb, and these hills should feel like mountains for the volleyball team. Six new recruits joined the team, and they have been playing most of this short season without senior Flavia Silveira, who led the team with 410 kills last season.

She’s only played in nine of the 28 games the team has had this season and only has seven kills.

But it still isn’t about these numbers, nor about the past seasons. It’s not even about injured players.

Sure, anyone can rattle off stats, and words such as struggling and misdirection, until migraines are abundant. But it’s probably not fair to compare this team to USF teams of the past, since for four years they had Michelle Collier, the only USF volleyball player whose number has been retired in addition to being Conference USA’s Player of the Decade.

This is about building on top of what Lessinger wants, and since everyone believes in her, the team will do whatever it possibly can.

They may struggle in the sense of losing, but they’ll never say it or admit it.

It’s not their style to use such words.

This season, with the entrance into the Big East, is tough. Everyone from here to Canada – a country from which three USF players hail – knows that undefeated and No. 7 Louisville comes to town Nov. 6, while No. 11 Notre Dame is slated for Oct. 21.

It’s about replacing the building blocks that have been put on the shelf and making sure the new ones don’t come tumbling down.

Fabris, Michelle Stalbaum and Kate Verhoff still have many seasons ahead of them, but the Big East will just make them better.

“This is a conference where you’re going to have to show up and compete every game of every week,” Lessinger said. “I don’t want to be in a conference I know I can walk through with 10 wins. That’s not what makes us better.”

So forget the record and forget about struggling.

“Our record is 1-7 and we have to go and prove that we can beat anyone,” Andrew-Wasylik said. “I think our record doesn’t reflect what we’re capable of. We get better every day.”

Erase all the numbers. Throw out your thesaurus.

Don’t remember about struggling. Remember that they won’t let you think they are stuck. They won’t let you think they are sliding faster than a child down a water slide.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t get stuck looking at our record very often, and there are times where I don’t even know it,” Lessinger said. “Even when we were on our losing streak, I didn’t even know how many games it was unless someone came into my office.

“If I was really concerned with the record I would have quit long ago.”

There’s another word not to use.