South Florida volleyball players celebrated in the middle of the court Sunday, knowing that they had punched their tickets to the Big East Championship Tournament in Pittsburgh with two key wins.
USF (17-12, 7-7) defeated the Seton Hall Pirates (14-15, 6-8) in five sets and the Villanova Wildcats (14-16, 5-9) in four sets in two matches the Bulls needed to win to make the Big East tournament.
Coach Claire Lessinger praised her team for what she said is its never-give-up attitude.
“This weekend, our team showed a lot of character,” she said. “A lot of people outside of the locker room doubted their ability after the adversity we’ve dealt with this year. They’ve been working all year on putting a good product on the floor, and they did that this weekend.”
Leading the way for the Bulls was junior outside hitter Marcela Gurgel. On Friday night, Gurgel had 25 kills and six aces. On Sunday, she had 20 kills and 12 digs. Gurgel said she is excited about clinching a Big East tournament spot.
“It means a lot that we qualified for the Big East tournament, because we have qualified every year since I’ve been here,” she said. “I’m so proud of this team because we fought hard all weekend.”
The weekend, however, belonged to the seniors.
Middle blocker Nakia Williams had 16 kills against Seton Hall and 13 against Villanova. Outside hitter Cynthia Danthon added 11 kills in the Villanova win.
Lessinger said she is proud of Danthon’s performance against Villanova.
“Cynthia has been great for us this year,” she said. “With it being senior day, we decided to start her because of her great defense and blocking. Today, she came through in the clutch with her offense as well.”
Danthon said she was excited to start in her final regular season game at the Corral.
“We played together this weekend,” Danthon said. “I was pretty nervous playing on senior day but we played hard, and now we’re going to the Big East tournament. It’s one of the best moments of my life.”
With the wins, the Bulls hold the eighth seed in the Big East tournament and will take on the top-seeded St. John’s Red Storm on Friday.
“I think what we did this weekend was exactly what we needed,” Lessinger said. “We got two victories over quality teams and we have confidence now. Let’s go upset No. 1.”