Volleyball comes back home

The Bulls host Central Florida in their home opener tonight at 7:30 in the Corral. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

After winning the Wright State Raider Challenge last weekend, the Bulls volleyball team will make their first appearance this season at the Sun Dome Thursday.

The Bulls (5-1) are off to their best start in seven years, when USF won seven games straight to open the season. They are on a five-game winning streak and hope to continue that streak against UCF, Texas A & M-Corpus Christi and George Mason at the USF Best Western Invitational.

“Right now the team feels very focused,” coach Claire Lessinger said. “I’m real impressed with how grounded each player is after such a good start.”

The first match occurs at 7 p.m. Thursday against long-time rival Central Florida. USF has split matches over the past two years with the Knights. During the last meeting in 2006, the Bulls were swept 3-0, but lost each by only two points.

“To some of the newcomers, this is just another match,” Lessinger said. “But there are seniors who have been playing UCF every year and consider it the War on I-4. I think those players get really pumped up to play against what is turning into a great in-state rivalry.”

UCF (6-5) started its season winning two of seven games. The Knights have rebounded to win their last four, including the Fall Invitational Tournament championship last weekend. In the game-winning match, three Knights produced double-doubles. Junior middle blocker Jenny Heppert totaled eight service aces along with her double-double as she was awarded tournament MVP.

On Friday, the Bulls host Texas A & M Corpus Christi. The Islanders are coming off a win against Texan-Pan American in the Holiday Inn Emerald Beach Invitational.

Texas A & M (3-6) lost the first two matches of the tournament but fought back to win a close 3-2 match. Senior middle blocker Jordan Wagner achieved a new career high in kills with 27 and tied a school record. She was named to the all-tournament team with 50 kills for the

tournament. Freshman Molly McCabe nearly tied the school record for most assists in a five-game match with 66. The Islanders finished the win with a .238 hitting percentage – their best so far this season.

USF will conclude its home tournament with a match against George Mason University. The Patriots (6-3) have competed in three tournaments and won at least two games in each. Their most recent victory came in a 3-1 match against UAB. Jaqueline Kohler and Rebecca Walter each recorded double-doubles and both were named to the Pitt Invitational

All-Tournament team.

For the first time this season the Bulls will have their home crowd behind them and will be able to feed off their energy.

“This is something our players have been looking forward to after opening two weeks on the road,” said Lessinger. “There’s a different type of energy and excitement in the air when our crowd is behind us.”

Stop by Entrance 1 of the Sun Dome for the Student Pizza Tailgate at 6 p.m. Free T-Shirts are available for the first 200 attending fans.