USF (17-9) at Villanova (17-11)When: Tonight, 6Where: Milwaukee, Wisc.TV/Radio: None
On Nov. 16, USF will join seven of the best volleyball teams in the Big East to compete for the Big East Championship in Milwaukee, Wis.
The Bulls finished the regular season with a 17-9 regular season record and are seeded sixth in the Big East Tournament. It will be their second straight invitation to the tournament. Last season the Bulls fell to top-seed St. John’s 3-1.
“I think that playing a top-rated team so well really boosted our players’ confidence,” coach Claire Lessinger said. “They are a very good team and it let our players know that we can compete against anyone.”
The Bulls started this season strong, going 8-1 in their first nine games for one of the best starts in school history. The Bulls improved from last season, posting an overall hitting percentage of .225 and finishing 8-6 in the Big East this year. The women also finished in the top three in the conference in service aces with 93 and twelfth in the nation in blocks per game with 3.26.
The Bulls will be taking on third-seed Villanova as their first hurdle. USF fought hard for a five-match win against Villanova earlier in the season. The Bulls fell behind 2-1, but fought back for one of their largest comebacks of the season. Kristina Fabris and Marcela Gurgel paced the Bulls with double-doubles – as they had done all season long – to bring in the victory.
“We know what some of their tendencies are,” Lessinger said. “But when you go into a conference tournament everyone is zero-zero. No matter who we face they are going to bring their ‘A’ game. We have our work cut out for us.”
Although the Wildcats are the third seed in the tournament, they were not in the top five in any major statistical category in the Big East. However, Villanova does have senior outside hitter Alona Cherkez, who leads the entire Big East in total kills with 324 and kills per game with 5.59.
With a 2-1 all-time record against the Wildcats, the Bulls will look to use their
versatility on both sides of the ball to move up the tournament bracket Friday.
The Bulls hope to start things off quickly with a strong performance from Gurgel, who leads all teams in the Big East in service aces per game with .63. The Bulls will also look to combat Cherkez’s attacks with one of the best block tandems in the conference: Nakia Williams and Alli Arbogast, both in the top seven in blocks per game.
“This game is really about teamwork and understanding roles,” Lessinger said. “Nakia and Alli are two players who really understand their roles. You aren’t going to go out there and stop Cherkez. It’s not going to happen. We have to just take care of things on our side of the court and we should have a good chance to pull out the win.”