University of South Florida soccer players didn't squander any chance to show off the trophy they won last weekend at the Stanford Bank of America Invitational.
Before leaving Palo Alto, Calif., late Sunday, the Bulls mounted the trophy between the hood and windshield of their rented van and tooled around town to display it.
Back at Tampa International Airport on Monday, they left the trophy on the baggage claim carousel for three glorious loops. Even auto racers only take one victory lap.
"When you win them, you have to enjoy them," USF coach Jay Miller explained.
USF (7-2) hasn't had the chance to enjoy bigger wins in a long time. The Bulls beat then No. 14-ranked San Francisco 3-0 on Friday, then stopped previously ranked No. 19 Stanford 1-0 on Sunday. They last beat a nationally ranked opponent, No. 9 Rutgers, on Oct. 4, 1985.
USF, which visits Metro Conference rivals Virginia Commonwealth on Friday and No. 10 North Carolina Charlotte on Sunday, has extended its winning streak to six games.
"This shows we're a viable NCAA tournament team and we're for sure in the hunt," Miller said. "Next weekend is going to be real tough, but if we win the next two, I think we'll be ranked No. 2 in the South, and that would put us in the top 10 (nationally.)"
USF, which hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1982, is ranked No. 14 in the Soccer America poll released Tuesday. The last time the Bulls were ranked was Nov. 1, 1983, when Roy Wegerle led them to No. 18 in the polls. The Bulls had been No. 13, their highest ranking ever, on Oct. 4.
"Everyone was excited and we're still excited," said senior midfielder Mark Chung, who had a goal and an assist against San Francisco and then the game-winning goal against Stanford. "But we have to settle down now and play VCU.
"We can't overlook them and just think about Charlotte. In the past, our confidence was too high after we'd beat a good team. Now, we're confident, but we know we have to take each game hard."
National test run: The men's cross country team, ranked No. 7 in the latest NCAA poll, is still willing to sacrifice early-season meets so it can peak at the NCAA finals.
Case in point: Coach Bob Braman will rest junior John Bowden, his second-best runner, and take a "weakened" squad to the Pre-nationals at Indiana on Saturday.
But Braman isn't following that path without some trepidation. What happens if USF doesn't earn one of the three regional berths in the 22-team NCAA field and must hope for one of the three at-large invitations?
"One side of me says this could be our last chance to beat some good people," he said. "If we're on the bubble, the top two criteria are head-to-head and comparative results. I think we can beat bubble teams without John, but you never know who's going to be on the bubble. Imagine if Villanova is a bubble team "
Villanova defeated USF at the Boston College Invitational on Sept. 26.
"I just hope the other guys can rise up and do a good job," Braman said.
Those other guys include talented seniors Jon Dennis, Gerallt Owen, Travis Grappo and Eddie Melia; juniors Keith Batten, Jeff Cooper and Jeff Ausloos, and freshman Mike Johnson.
The women's team also is weakened, but not by design. Senior Tracee Mills could be out for the season with a slipped disk in her back, and the NCAA has denied an appeal to restore freshman Lisa O'Conner's eligibility.
Still, sophomore Aimee Lund, junior Kara Howell and sophomore Jayne O'Conner are all running well, and if junior Sarah Erickson, bothered by a hip injury and running in her first race of the year, can compete, the Bulls should be solid.
Passing the torch: The women's golf team doesn't have a star such as Susan Veasey this year, but senior Sally Dee said USF may be better for it.
"We don't have just one person we're depending on," she said. "Everybody expects a little more of themselves now and that's elevated everyone's level of play."
USF, which finished second in its first tournament of the year (the Lady Seminole two weeks ago), plays host to the Beacon Woods tournament Friday through Sunday.
"We have the capability of winning it," said Dee, who led USF with a sixth-place finish overall at the Lady Seminole.
Conference season begins: The volleyball team will look to avoid a repeat of last year's slow start in the Metro Conference as it plays host to Tulane on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and then Southern Mississippi on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
USF, 6-7 entering Tuesday night's match against Stetson, began 1-2 in Metro play last year.
At stake is the crucial seeding for the Metro Tournament. The winner of the Metro receives an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, while the runner-up will go to the Women's Invitational Volleyball Championship.