Volleyball splits home opener in round robin weekend

In freshman Maria Clara Andrade’s first two games she racked up a total of 34 kills and 15 digs. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

In the women’s volleyball round-robin season opener, the Bulls split the day with a sweeping victory over William and Mary followed by a close loss versus Ball State.

After two matches, South Florida showed a massive change from the efforts of last year’s team. In 2021, the Bulls (7-24, AAC 1-19) finished the season under 10 wins with only three sweeps.

South Florida 3, William and Mary 0

For the first game, the Bulls dominated the Tribe in a three-set sweep match to secure victory for the season’s first game.

Leading the herd with 11 kills, freshman outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade had complete control of the court. She contributed to over a fourth of the 40 kills of the match, rallying over the 29 kills William and Mary put up.

When reflecting on Andrade’s performance, coach Jolene Shepardson boasted about her competitive personality on the court.

“I think we’re just gonna keep getting better because we still got some great youth. You can see Maria Clara, even as a freshman, came out really aggressive and I love that competitive attitude,” Shepardson said.

South Florida didn’t lead the game in just kills either, excelling in every category throughout the game. In all sets, they finished 25-18, 25-23 and 25-18.

The Bulls’ secret to their first game success is the depth unmatched from their season before.

”I think our team is a great team. We have a lot of depth, but we really pushed each other competitively in the gym and it helps prepare for these great teams, so I’m really proud of them,” Shepardson said.

Ball State 3, South Florida 2

The Corral was filled with excited fans for the second game of USF volleyball opening day, but after a long fight, the Bulls fell short 3-2 against Ball State University.

Ball State gave USF no mercy throughout its teetering five sets. The Bulls lost 25-23 in the first set but had a 23-25 comeback in the second. Ball State took set three 25-21. The Bulls tied the game in set four 24-26 but fell to pressure in set five and lost 15-13.

“I think we came out a little slow and so we need to capitalize at the beginning, not just kind of warm-up into it,” Shepardson said. “I think our pressure started to intimidate [Ball State] but they responded well.”

Despite the pressure, Andrade stood out during her second collegiate game and posted 23 kills and 12 digs. In the fourth set, she also assisted with the winning match point with a solo block against an error by Ball State freshman Madison Buckley.

“She sustained focus in her serves and was making some phenomenal digs,” Shepardson said. “I think she’s only gonna get better. It helps the key parts when you have somebody that focuses competitively. It allows everybody else to play their game.”

Sophomore middle blocker Tizi Puljiz and junior outside hitter Marta Cvitkovic both matched their career high of four service aces in a match. Sophomore right side Amanda DeWitt nearly matched her career high of 16 kills with 15 on Friday.

Though the Bulls did not come out on top, they weren’t alone with members of USF Athletics cheering them on. USF football players took the initiative to begin a wave in the sea of fans and were not hesitant to join the crowd in celebration.

“We love the crowd,” Shepardson said. “It was great energy tonight. We’re definitely going to need that representation from all the athletic teams and student body.”

Overall, the Bulls showed improvement from last season in their opening game. In the 2021 season, they averaged 11.9 kills per set, and on Friday they posted an average of 13.6.

“I think we grew since last year with handling pressure,” Shepardson said. “I think they stuck together through the hard [and] they proved to themselves that they can score and sustain focus with their serve under pressure. I thought it was a great match.”

The Bulls will complete their weekend tournament in The Corral at 1 p.m. Saturday against South Alabama. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.