USF volleyball earns pair of wins at FIU Panther Challenge

USF coach Courtney Draper (left) said she was pleased with her team's ability to side-out in an efficient manner in its victories over Alabama A&M and North Florida. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/SEBASTIAN CONTENTO

The volleyball team opened its regular season over the weekend by taking two out of three matches at Florida International University’s Panther Challenge.

The Bulls recorded sweeps in straight sets against Alabama A&M 25-13, 25-9, 25-16 Friday and North Florida 25-19, 25-22, 25-17 Saturday morning, but was swept in a loss to tournament host FIU on Saturday night.

“I’m glad we realized things to work on early in the season rather than later,” coach Courtney Draper said. “We need to be able to side-out a little more efficiently, especially with our upcoming opponents.”

Six new faces took the court for USF (2-1), including three transfers and three freshmen. 

Among the freshmen was setter Molly Burkhardt, who led the Bulls in virtually every category in USF’s loss to FIU, 25-17, 26-24, 25-19.

Burkhardt recorded team-highs three aces, 12 digs and 16 assists. She added six kills and 10 points to her match, earning the first double-double of her career.

The Bulls struggled to land hits on FIU (2-1) as the Panthers forced 22 hitting errors by the Bulls, doubling USF’s total from the first two matches combined.

Junior outside hitter Dakota Hampton finished the day with 10 digs and nine kills, one shy of her first double-double of the season.

Junior Alexus Heidelburg added 10 kills, four digs and three blocks on the night.

“It’s really important (to get the momentum early),” Draper said. “Last year, we played three top-25 teams in the opening weekend. It’s hard to see where the team is at when you’re playing that tough of competition. 

“This year we took the approach of gaining some confidence and try some different things.”

Burkhardt was at it again against North Florida with five straight points off serves — four of them for aces — to give USF a 14-6 lead in the third set.

“We asked a lot of her and she was able to carry that load pretty well,” Draper said.

Burkhardt finished the weekend with seven aces to only three serving errors.

Hampton led the team with 30 kills on the weekend, adding another team-high 30 digs.

Junior Elyse Panick, who transferred to USF from Marshall in the offseason, showed her versatility with 17 kills and 11 digs in the team’s first three games.