Every Tuesday morning for the past two months, Bob Braman has grudgingly, but dutifully, called for the updated NCAA cross-country coaches' poll. Listening to the three-minute recorded message has become something of a running joke for Braman, the University of South Florida coach. Well, almost.
The Bulls, who qualified for the 22-team national tournament last year, had been all but snubbed this season, receiving votes (eight) just once _ five weeks ago.
This week, however, USF is ranked No. 22 in the nation with 25 points after winning the Sun Belt Conference title for a third consecutive year. But Braman isn't gloating.
"I really think we're better than that," he said. "You have to remember, the conference was really the first meet we had everyone healthy. We're really just starting to come on now."
Junior Chris Payne was second in the five-mile race on Saturday, finishing in 24:17, as USF beat previously No. 14-ranked South Alabama 40-46 for the title.
Junior Robin Rogers was fourth (24:44), freshman Paul Burnett seventh (25:00), senior Robbie Deakin 13th (25:16), and sophomore John Ausloos 14th (25:18) for USF.
"As a team, we ran really well," Braman said. "Robbie didn't feel well and didn't run his normal race, but he contributed. He didn't just shut down. That's the encouraging thing."
USF must finish no worse than fourth in the regional meet Nov. 10 in Greenville, S.C., to make another trip to the nationals. Also in the regional are No. 4 Tennessee, No. 8 Wake Forest, No. 12 Kentucky and No. 20 Florida.
"We're not going to go there looking for respectability," Braman said. "We're going there to win. It's going to be hard to out do what we did last year (fourth), but we've got the talent to."
No matter what the pollsters say.
Speaking of earning a measure of respect: The USF women's cross-country program, in just its fourth year, won the Sun Belt _ its first title of any kind _ to complete the USF sweep Saturday.
Junior Monica Scarborough was fourth (17:57) in the 5-kilometer race, which is a school record. Sophomore Renee Cork was seventh (18:24), sophomore Alison Titcomb 10th (18:29), freshman Cindy Wulf 11th (18:37), and sophomore Cindy Parliament 13th (18:46).
So, USF easily outdistanced North Carolina-Charlotte 45-60.
"Charlotte put three runners in front of our No. 2, so that shows you the great amount of depth we have," said USF women's assistant coach Judy Bogenschutz, who won the half-marathon at the 1989 Olympic Sports Festival.
"I know when I came down here (from Indiana University), there were 10 girls with a lot more talent than I had when I came out of high school. They just had to learn to use it, jell as a group and challenge themselves."
They did just that on Saturday.
"We really dominated the meet," said Braman, who was named both men's and women's coach of the year in the Sun Belt. "Now our goal is to finish in the top 10 at the regional. They're have to run their best race of the year to do that, but we're on our way to being the best in Florida."
Aiming for the conference crown: The USF soccer team, after a mediocre season last year, is in a position to reclaim the top spot in the Sun Belt and possibly earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulls are 4-1-1 in the conference and can secure at least a tie for the title with a win against North Carolina-Charlotte in their regular-season finale Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at USF.
Equally important, a win could be the Bulls' springboard to the nationals since UNC-C has gained national respect for wins against Hartwick and Philadelphia Textile and narrow losses to Duke and Clemson.
"It's exciting that the last game of your season means so much," coach Jay Miller said. "It can certainly top off a very nice season for us."
The Bulls (11-2-2 entering Tuesday's night game against the University of Tampa) suffered through the first losing season in the program's 26-year history last year with a 9-11 record. The Bulls last won the Sun Belt in 1988 and last appeared in the national tournament in 1982.
Sweet home, Alabama? The USF volleyball team (14-18) has another shot at the top team in the Sun Belt, Alabama-Birmingham, this weekend during the UAB Invitational.
USF, the four-time defending conference champion, will play Northeastern Illinois (1-30) and UAB (22-10) on Friday, then Mississippi (8-7) and Kentucky (15-9) on Saturday.
"It would great if we could beat them this time," said USF coach Debbie Richardson. "It would be a big confidence boost for us. We didn't play well against them in our tournament (a four-game loss) a couple weeks ago."
If USF can beat UAB and win the conference title, it will receive an automatic bid to the 20-team Women's Invitational Volleyball Tournament at the University of Tennessee.
The Bulls, who lost all six starters from last year's team, are slowly maturing, allowing Richardson to add new, more-complex plays. That should accelerate the team's progress, Richardson said.
Need proof of the Bulls' improvement? Well, look no further than the play of freshman outside hitter Fiona Waters.
She had 36 kills in a 3-2 win against Central Florida last week and leads the team in kills (449, fifth highest in USF single-season records) and attack percentage (.334).
"Earlier in the year, my timing wasn't as good," Waters said. "But I'm getting used to the setters (freshmen Amanda Stover and Angela Haws) and they know what kind of set I like. I think we're coming together now and I think we can beat them (UAB)."
Run for fun/funds: The 13th annual Bull Run is Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Registration is $12 for the 5K, 10K or 2-mile walk. All proceeds go to the USF cross-country program.
USF Invitational: The USF Tennis Invitational is Friday-Saturday and features singles and doubles open draws for men and women. The cost is $10 for either event. All proceeds will benefit the USF men's program. The deadline to register is Thursday at 1 p.m. For more information, call 974-2125.