Bulls clip Ospreys’ wings in home opener, end 3-match skid

Jac’cara Walker led USF with 15 kills Tuesday night against North Florida. ORALCE FILE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

After losing in straight sets in the opening and closing matches of the Hurricane Invitational to both Florida Gulf Coast and Miami, USF volleyball (3-3) seemed to be down on its luck.

Being in front of the home fans was just what the Bulls needed to grab a win, as USF powered to a four-set win (25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 25-13) over North Florida (2-5) on Tuesday at The Corral.

“It was really nice to be home,” coach Courtney Draper said. “This is our first home match and so I thought our fans were great and it’s just a little more of a comfortable feeling, of course, playing in your home gym.”

At one point in the first set, the Bulls held a five-point lead, but North Florida bounced back to trail by just two points at 24-22. On the verge of the Bulls winning their first set since Saturday afternoon, Draper called a timeout.

Draper’s timeout talk had two bullet points: stay away from North Florida’s libero and aim to score in Zone 1.

“We weren’t necessarily doing those things, so I continued to reiterate, ‘If you do those things you will be successful,’” Draper said.

The Bulls listened to her advice and powered on to win the first, third and fourth sets. 

In the fourth set, the Bulls capitalized on North Florida’s attacking errors. USF pulled ahead 6-0, thanks in part to three consecutive attacking errors. The Ospreys’ then sealed their own fate after four consecutive attacking errors gave the Bulls a 12-point win, 25-13.

The momentum from the third set was credited for the Bulls’ explosive start to the fourth.

“I said, ‘Let’s not let up the momentum from this last game, let’s not let them believe that they have a chance,’ so we just really kept the pressure,” Draper said.

Senior outside hitter Jac’cara Walker, who led the Bulls with 15 kills, said she wanted to win this game to rebuild some of the confidence lost over the weekend. She also wants to make her last year count, which means getting as many wins as possible.

“I try to do what I can. This is my last go-around,” Walker said. “In those situations when it’s 22-22, I tell my setter, ‘Hey, I’ll take the swing, I’ll take the ball when it’s close like this.’ Just keeping everyone calm. I think that’s what I’ve been focusing on being the only senior.”

The Bulls hit the road to play in the Gator Invitational in Gainesville. USF will take on No. 7 Florida in the first of two matches Friday.

Walker hopes Tuesday’s home win will propel the team to consecutive wins on the road.

“We need to work on starting out how we started in the fourth set, playing like that throughout the match,” Walker said. “So not just in the fourth game or the second game but from the first point in the first match to the very end.”