Volleyball coach clinches 150th career win against Charlotte

Coach Jolene Shepardson led her team to back-to-back wins against the Charlotte 49ers. ORACLE PHOTO/GIOVANNA SILVEIRA CHITTO

USF volleyball welcomed Charlotte for two matchups at The Corral on Friday and Sunday, winning both games 3-0 and 3-1.

The wins against Charlotte extended the Bulls’ perfect winning record in The Corral this season.

Here’s how the Bulls (13-7, 7-2 AAC) performed against the 49ers (9-11, 2-6 AAC).

Friday –– USF 3, Charlotte 0

USF’s victory on Friday was coach Jolene Shepardson’s 150th career win and seventh win overall against the 49ers program.

USF faced some adversity in the first set as Charlotte trailed close in a 25-21 match. However, the Bulls were able to dominate in the remaining two sets. 

During the first set, USF led in kills 16 to nine against the 49ers with each team serving two aces.

Despite the close set, Shepardson said her team handled it well defensively. Junior middle blocker Tizi Puljiz led the team with three blocks.

“Our blockers and defenders did a good job. We handled [Charlotte’s] serves really well [and] that helped us a lot for sure,” Shepardson said. 

South Florida carried its momentum going into the second and third set with a 25-10 and 25-17 sweep against the opponents, reaching a high of 14-point lead during the second set 23-9.

The Bulls led in kills 15 to three in the second set and 18 to 10 in the third.

Shepardson said this game was an improvement to their previous 3-0  loss against Wichita State on Oct. 8. 

“[Charlotte] had a good defensive team and were digging us but I was really proud of how consistent we were. We were smart in times when the set wasn’t perfect [and] we kept the rally going,” Shepardson said.

“[The players] trust themselves in the longer rallies and that’s a good response [to Wichita].” 

To celebrate her new record with the Bulls, Shepardson said she was content with the team’s performance and used it to push through their second matchup on Sunday. 

“I’m glad it was the 150th [win]. It’s more of them having the desire and aggressive ability to perform at a high level. They know that I love to play great volleyball and we strive for that every day in our gym,” Shepardson said. “It’s awesome and I want to keep going.” 

Sophomore outside hitters Maria Clara Andrade and Buse Hazan had a combined 30 kills out of the 49 totalled from USF. 

Sunday –– USF 3, Charlotte 1 

South Florida managed to ride its winning momentum against Charlotte on Sunday, clinching a 3-1 win on Sunday with set scores of 25-22, 26-24, 25-15, 25-11.

Halfway through the first set, Charlotte caught up to USF’s strong 6-0 start and cut the lead down to one point at 16-15. The game remained neck-and-neck for most of the set as USF couldn’t capitalize on its lead and was forced into a timeout at 22-22. 

Shepardson said it was important to reassure the players of their ability and get them refocused during the timeout.“They have the skill. Sometimes it’s just the mentality of doing the right things, so I try to get in their minds… I took [Hazan] aside and I looked in her eyes [to reassure her],” Shepardson said.

Following the motivational timeout, junior setter Carline Dykes put the Bulls on game point before graduate student middle blocker Niki Khoshatefeh brought home the first set.

No team maintained a solid lead for most of the second set. Charlotte tied the score 24-24 and took the second set courtesy of an error by Hazan.

The third set continued the neck-and-neck nature of the game. At an 11-11 score, Khoshatefeh and Hazan broke the tie and combined for four kills to take a 15-11 lead.

Shepardson said playing persistently is what made the difference in breaking the deadlock to extend a lead.

“Power to them for fighting on defense and digging a lot of our unbearable shots… we have to remember if we bring great volleyball over and over again, it wears on people,” Shepardson said.

The Bulls started playing much more aggressively. They went on a scoring run of 13-2 as Tizi put her team on game point and then followed up with a set-winning kill.

The Bulls had a smooth fourth set spearheaded by Hazan and Andrade who had 19 and 15 kills.

Tizi and senior outside hitter Marta Cvitkovic also got double-digit kills with 13 and 11.

Dykes, who tied her career-high of 56 assists, made the game-winning kill for USF.

Shepardson said her team is excited to face UNT in their next match.

“We have all week to prepare for them, and we’ll be ready. We’re excited [to be] back in the Yuengling arena. It’s gonna be a big game since it’s the last one [in the Yuengling Center],” Shepardson said.

The Bulls welcome UNT to The Yuengling Center for their next conference game on Friday at 6 p.m.