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USF vs. Cincinnati | October 30^ | 2 p.m. | USF Upper Recreation Center
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* Alumni Weekend
^ Dig Pink Match (Donate to USF's Dig Pink Team Page)
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF volleyball will be honoring the past and trying to thrive in the present at home this weekend.
The Bulls are set for two Big East matches at the USF Recreation Center with at least 14 former players on hand to cheer them on during alumni weekend.
"A lot of those players have put banners on the wall and we're trying to do the same thing," head coach Claire Lessinger said. "It's so important to reunite the Bulls family wherever they are."
Some are mother-daughter combos, some have traveled all the way from Brazil and other alums are recently graduated. Lessinger said each one is just important as the other when it comes to the imprints the former Bulls have left on the program.
"Every alumni has touched this program in some way, shape or form," Lessinger said.
USF's eighth-year head coach is extra excited about her players getting the opportunity to interact with past Bulls. Having them on hand during game action provides some extra motivation on the court during a tough slate of matches.
USF (5-3 in Big East) faces Louisville on Friday at 7 p.m. in a match that is easy by no means. The Cardinals (16-6) are 8-1 in conference play and have Big East Preseason Player of the Year Lola Arslanbekova.
"You just want to hopefully keep her to attempts and not career (numbers) and go off on us," Lessinger said.
Arslanbekova ranks second in the nation in kills per set (5.03) and has helped Louisville top the conference in hitting percentage and kills.
"The most impressive thing about Lola is her hitting efficiency numbers," Lessinger said. "She's on the outside and her hitting percentage is that of a middle blocker. That's just very, very impressive."
The Bulls know the Russian is going to bring it and Lessinger said they'll have to be prepared to rebound quickly from the thunderous knocks.
"We could get into a side-out battle with them, where we won't put ourselves in a position where we have to run a lot of points to come back," Lessinger said.
Keeping sets, 1-1, 2-2, and close after that can be accomplished because USF has a very good kill specialist of its own. Freshman outside hitter Valerie El Houssine leads the Bulls with 3.42 kills per set and also is tops in the conference in service aces (0.49 per set).
"She's special in all facets of the game," Lessinger said. "We score so many runs and points with her serving."
USF's second match of the weekend 2 p.m. Sunday against Cincinnati (17-8, 7-2) and a possible career milestone could be reached for Lessinger if all goes right. The coach is two wins away from reaching 100 in her career with the Bulls and she already ranks fourth all-time in the program's history.
Fans get into both games for free at the USF Recreation Center and Friday's crowd is encouraged to wear their best Halloween costumes to the match. Sunday also will be a unique experience as USF will be wearing pink uniforms for the "Dig Pink" match, a national initiative devoted to promoting breast cancer awareness spearheaded by the Side-Out Foundation. The first 100 fans through the door get a free pink T-shirt.
Following three straight road matches, USF returns home for a four-match homestand starting with the BIG EAST preseason favorite, Louisville, on Friday at 7 p.m.
USF has managed a start of at least 5-3 in conference play in each of the past four seasons. Freshman outside hitter Valerie El Houssine was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll after averaging 4.58 kills per set in a 1-1 week for the Bulls. In a 3-0 sweep of DePaul last week, USF held the Blue Demons to a negative hitting percentage in all three sets and posted 13 blocks in the match. Despite a stifling defense that ranks amongst the national leaders in blocking, opponents are outhitting USF .189 to .183 this year. The Bulls are tabbed second in the conference and 18th nationally with 2.69 blocks per set, while they rank fourth among conference leaders in service aces per set at 1.47.
A LOOK AT THE CARDINALS (16-6, 8-1 BE)
Louisville has caught fire in the conference slate of competition as the Cardinals have won eight of its last 10 matches en route to an 8-1 mark in conference play. The 2011 BIG EAST preseason favorite, Louisville boasts the Preseason Player of the Year in Lola Arslanbekova. The junior outside hitter ranks second nationally with 5.03 kills per set. Louisville features a balanced attack on both sides of the ball as they rank in the top three of several statistical categories in the BIG EAST: hitting percentage (1st), kills (1st), assists (2nd), opponent hitting percentage (3rd), blocks (3rd) and service aces (3rd).
ALL-TIME SERIES vs. LOUISVILLE
The Cardinals own a 20-7 lead in the all-time series between the two programs. Under head coach Claire Lessinger, USF has registered a 1-2 mark in home meetings. However, Lousiville has rattled off victories in seven of the past eight matches.
A LOOK AT THE BEARCATS (17-8, 7-2 BE)
The Bearcats preserved the nation’s longest home winning streak (45) with three wins last week. Freshman Caylin Mahoney garnered the BIG EAST’s Freshman of the Week honor on the strength of 118 assists in wins over Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Junior middle blocker Jordanne Scott was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll after averaging 4.09 kills per set and a .395 hitting percentage in three victories. Missy Harpenau paces the team offensively with 3.45 kills per set this year.
ALL-TIME SERIES vs. CINCINNATI
Cincinnati holds a modest 11-9 edge in the all-time series, dating back to 1995. However, USF has dropped the last eight matches to the Bearcats.
Eighth-year head coach Claire Lessinger is closing in on the 100-win milestone. With a career record of 98-123, Lessinger ranks fourth all-time in program history in career wins. She would become just the fourth coach at USF to ever attain 100 wins since the program’s inception in 1972.
The Bulls are tabbed 18th nationally with 2.69 blocks per set. Sophmore middle blocker Andrea Rodriguez Gomez has anchored the team’s defensive unit. She ranks 18th nationally in blocks per set (1.36). In the USF Invitational, Rodriguez Gomez notched a career high 14 block assists against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Her block total against UMES stands as the single-game record amongst all BIG EAST programs this season. Classmate Kayla Walton has also been a force on the blocking lines as she has posted 78 blocks on the year (1.01 per set).
The freshman duo of Valerie El Houssine and Shelbie Dailey have raced out to productive starts as freshmen in starting roles. Dailey has orchestrated the team’s offense from the setter position, tallying 9.17 assists per set. Meanwhile, El Houssine leads the squads in kills (3.42 per set) and leads the BIG EAST in service aces with 0.47 per set, which ranks 19th nationally. Her 30 kills in the conference opener against Syracuse ranks as the BIG EAST record for kills in an individual match this season.
RIVERA CLIMBING THE CHARTS
Senior libero Janice Rivera became just the 10th player in USF history to eclipse the 1,000 dig mark. With 17 digs against DePaul last week, Rivera moved into seventh-place on the program’s all-time digs list (1,120).