Going into this season, USF volleyball was expected to be more competitive than last year, and for a while it seemed as though they were doing just that.
However, wins have been hard to come by lately. USF (7-13, 1-6 AAC) has only won one conference game. The defense and blocking that were a staple in earlier games have not been as present in recent matchups.
It has been an up-and-down year, but there have been some silver linings. Here’s a look at some of the best moments and players of the Bulls’ season thus far.
Performance of the year
USF Sweeps William & Mary 3-0 (Aug. 26)
The season opener was arguably the best South Florida looked all season. USF started the year on a dominant note, sweeping William & Mary in three sets and performing well on both sides of the net.
Offensively, the Bulls were firing on all cylinders with 40 kills and 32 across three sets. Their 10 blocks and 29 digs in that match showed they brought an equal intensity to the defensive end.
The match featured stellar individual performances as well. Freshman outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade led the team with 13 kills in her collegiate debut, followed by sophomore middle blocker Tizi Puljiz with nine. Junior setter Kelsey O’Loughlin contributed 13 assists to the victory.
Getting a win in such fashion helped the Bulls start the year on the right foot.
USF falls to Temple 3-2 (Oct. 16)
Conference play has not been kind to USF this year. However, in the Bulls’ Oct.16 matchup with Temple, their competitive effort showed until the last match point.
After dropping the first set against the Owls 25-21, the Bulls fought back and won the next two sets, 25-19 and 25-17. South Florida had the opportunity to seal the deal in the fourth set, but ended up losing it, 28-26. USF was unable to regroup and lost the fifth set, 15-12.
Despite the loss, the box score tells a different story. USF led Temple in many statistical categories including kills, digs and assists.
Junior outside hitter Marta Cvitkovic led the way with 19 kills and one block followed by senior middle blocker Ally Barnhart with 12 kills and four blocks.
South Florida has nothing to feel down about in its performance, it just, unfortunately, did not result in a win.
Midseason surprise player
Coming back from a knee injury that kept her out for over a year, it seems sophomore middle blocker Makayla Washington has not lost a step. Her play has added a new dimension to the Bulls’ attack.
In the five matches since her return, the sophomore middle blocker has 53 kills and 59.5 points. Washington’s average of 2.88 kills per set is third on the team this season. She has put together this stat line while only starting one of those matches.
The current sample size is small, but if Washington sustains this play, she could help South Florida turn its season around.
Marta Cvitkovic and Kelsey O’Loughlin
For a team that has seen many players step up and contribute, Cvitkovic and O’Loughlin have had the greatest impact on the team this season
Cvitkovic’s play has been vital to USF’s attack. Her 224.5 points and 191 kills this year leads the Bulls in those statistics. She has also contributed on the defensive end, with 101 digs and 25 blocks this season.
As one of South Florida’s most reliable performers, Cvitkovic has acted as a leader for the team this season. She has played the fourth most sets on the team this year at 72.
O’Loughlin has been the offensive hub for the team. The ways in which she sets up her teammates have created ample scoring opportunities this year.
The junior setter has 480 assists, leading USF by a wide margin in that category in 2022. She has also been a valuable defender, posting 64 digs this year. She has been an ironwoman for the team as she is tied with senior middle blocker Ally Barnhart for first on the team in sets played at 76.
South Florida is a better team record-wise than it was at this point last season. By the time its nonconference schedule ended, South Florida nearly matched its win total from last season, but there is still room to improve.
This USF volleyball team has shown flashes where it can compete with most teams in the conference, but have not been able to close out those games. The rest of conference play will make any possibility of a turnaround difficult.
Tough conference opponents like SMU, UCF and No. 24 Houston will be big tests for the Bulls. They will need to improve their form to close the year on a high note.