USF overcomes adversity, size disadvantage to extend winning streak to four

Sophomore outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade led the Bulls with 22 kills. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

In its conference opener, USF volleyball overcame a taller Tulane team 3-2 on Wednesday in The Corral.

The Bulls (7-5) lost the first set 25-21 but were able to bounce back to win the second and third sets 25-23 and 25-16. With a chance to seal the game against The Green Wave (4-9), they lost the fourth set 25-21 but were able to clinch the match in the fifth set 15-9.

In the first set, Tulane’s frontline got the better of USF. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead, which led to an early timeout. After an attempt to even the score, Tulane extended its lead to eight, leading to a second timeout.

Coach Jolene Shepardson thought it was important that the team trust their own ability to produce points from the beginning of the game.

“We need to trust our ability…we were a little nervous at the beginning,” Shepardson said. “We have a couple of people that have come off the bench in some key roles because we’ve had some injuries and I’m really proud of those guys, for getting their nerves down and playing really well.

“So we just needed to level out. I like how we were closing…In that first set, we’re starting to get more fluid…and good things start to happen when you play better volleyball.”

USF had a much quicker start in the second set, jumping out to a 7-2 lead and forcing Tulane to call a timeout. Tulane then closed in on the Bulls’ lead. Only trailing 11-10, South Florida was forced to call its timeout. The rest of the set was competitive, but USF won 25-23 in a back-and-forth fashion.

Sophomore outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade greatly contributed to the second-set victory, putting up 12 kills in the first two sets.

After giving up a 7-0 lead to start the first set, Andrade said it was vital for them to start strong throughout the rest of the game.

“It was really important. I feel like we need to start that way for every set… We’re stronger than them, and we need to start showing that,” Andrade said. “If we let them start stronger and lift them up, we’re not going to make it. We need to stay strong and show everything we have.”

South Florida replicated its pace in the third set, leading 9-5 and continuing its momentum to win the set 25-16.

Both teams came out firing in the fourth set, as South Florida looked to close the match and Tulane aimed to force a fifth set. They went back and forth, but USF ultimately lost the set 26-24.

Tulane forced a fifth set, but USF bounced back with an 8-3 lead and never looked back as the Bulls won the set 15-9, extending their winning streak to four.

USF faced a much taller team, with their graduate middle blocker, Orsula Staka, standing at 6 feet 4 inches and their redshirt sophomore outside hitter, Ilayda Demirtas, at 6 feet 5 inches tall. Although USF struggled early on, the team adjusted to account for the size difference.

Shepardson thought it was important for her team to be aggressive against a taller opponent.

“They are good players. So, our mentality was [to] go attack…we did that attack through our serve and our offense,” she said. “That was our mentality – like, go attack these guys. We wanted to start the conference off right. Even though they’re a big physical team, we wanted to attack them big.”

Shepardson also said USF is no stranger to adversity, both on and off the court. She said the team has had to deal with bus breakdowns and injuries.

To be able to overcome these challenges and sustain a four-game win streak is a sign of a cultural shift on the team, according to Shepardson.

“That’s the way it is in life,” Shepardson said. “There’s going to be trials going to be challenges, and I want them to keep fighting, and they did that so I’m really proud of them.”

USF volleyball will travel to Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers on Saturday at 2 p.m.