Bulls Invitational recap: South Florida gets two wins, one loss

Senior setter Kelsey O’Loughlin posted 75 assists over three matches this weekend. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Over the weekend, South Florida (6-6) wrapped up its volleyball invitational with two victories against Cornell and Stetson. The Bulls then dropped their match against South Dakota the following day.

Many of the Bulls players stood out during the tournament’s three games. Coach Jolene Shepardson had some takeaways and ways for the team to improve.

USF 3, Cornell 0

The Bulls began their day with a 12:30 p.m. matchup against Cornell (2-7), where they achieved their third sweep of the season.

USF dominated the first two sets 25-15 over the Big Red, posting an attack percentage of .321 and .519 in comparison to Cornell’s .098 and .172.

Shepardson took note of how smart the Bulls played in their winning effort.

“We made very few errors. When an opponent never makes an error, like that was us this morning. When we played against Cornell we just never let them breathe,” Shepardson said. “I think they’re a good group. They definitely have some great hitters and we just smothered them this morning.”

During their final set, the Bulls were neck and neck with Cornell, matching each other’s fire in a competition to stay alive. Within the last few plays, USF finished off the Big Red 25-22 after two back-to-back kills from senior setter Kelsey O’Loughlin and freshman outside hitter Selin Kalkan.

Kalkan finished the match with three kills and Shepardson spoke highly of her approach offensively.

“Selin played in that match and she was just really the key to passing well and being thoughtful with her offense. Overall, that was really important for us to show ourselves that we could be stable and not give our opponent points,” Shepardson said.

“Sometimes we alleviate that pressure, offensively. But we were just constant from the end line and up at the net so I think that was really good for us to grow in that capacity.”

Shepardson emphasized how important it was for the Bulls to get back in the winning column after the result of last weekend’s UTSA Invitational.

“[The win was] huge. A game changer for us. That consistency that we came out with was definitely something we needed to rebound from the past,” Shepardson said. “It was a great foundation to be able to fight against Stetson tonight. That was key.”

USF 3, Stetson 2

USF closed out Day 1 with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Stetson (8-3) on Friday. With the first four sets split between the Bulls and the Hatters, the final set was left for any team to claim.

South Florida jumped to a 5-1 lead in the fifth set and never looked back. Freshman outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade’s final kill sealed the 15-9 victory for USF.

Their play got better as the match went on. In the winning sets, USF’s hitting percentage was .381. It was a stark difference from the .159 they posted in the sets they lost.

USF applied that same pressure on the defensive end. South Florida held Stetson to a .175 hitting percentage and put up nine blocks in that game.

O’Loughlin generated 32 assists in the winning effort. Sophomore middle blocker Amiree Hendricks-Walker also contributed with 10 kills and 4 blocks.

“I think Kelsey did a great job serving. She did a great job playing defense and she ran our offense well. She is one of our starting setters so I’m really proud of her,” Shepardson said. “Amiree also, her connection with Kelsey was great and unstoppable.

“Honestly, it took a team effort. [Stetson] pressed us in all different angles and a lot of people stepped up and [made a] contribution. I could name a ton of them. Senior defensive specialist CC Clausen had some good serves. Sophomore middle blocker Tizi Puljiz had some great swings at key moments. It was just a great team win.”

South Dakota 3, USF 0

On Saturday afternoon, the Bulls played South Dakota in their final match of the Bulls Invitational. After back-to-back wins the night before, USF was swept in three sets.

South Dakota (10-1) bested USF in many categories. It put up 38 kills and 42 digs compared to South Florida’s 33 kills and 30 digs. Shepardson gave credit to the “experienced” and “talented” Coyote roster, but noted positives in the Bulls’ performance toward the end of the match.

In spite of the result, individual performances stood out. Outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade had 12 kills throughout the match. Setters Tatiana Johnson and O’Loughlin combined for 27 of the Bulls’ 31 assists.

“I think they are doing their job getting our hitters one-on-one and they are playing really good defense. Kelsey had some good serving runs, so I’m proud of what they’re doing and they’re gonna help open things up for our hitters,” Shepardson said. “I want a well-distributed team offense, not just individuals. They are doing a good job, both of our setters.”

With conference play starting soon, Shepardson complemented the strength of the team’s passing by picking it up on the defensive end. They only had five blocks in their loss to South Dakota.

“I think [South Dakota] definitely pressed defensively and sometimes we rose to that and sometimes we can really battle more so just being more consistent with our defense behind our good block setup,” she said.

The Bulls will hit the road to start conference play against SMU on Sept. 23.