Volleyball moves to first in division standings after two-day ECU matchup


USF overcame a taxing ECU team to go to the top of the conference table inching toward the division title. ORACLE PHOTO/GIOVANNA SILVEIRA CHITTO


USF women’s volleyball is one step closer to the division title after beating ECU 3-1 and 3-2 on Thursday and Friday at The Corral.

The Bulls (17-10, 11-5 AAC) are now the number one seed in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference. The team is one win away from owning a share of the division championship.

Both teams had a 9-5 conference record prior to this week’s matchups.

Here’s how the two wins played out for the Bulls.

USF 3 ECU 1,  Thursday

Sophomore outside hitter Maria Clara Andrade said the Bulls were seeking redemption against ECU after the team’s 3-1 loss in November last year.

“We knew that we had to work harder than them so we can do better [than them],” Andrade said.

Andrade was named AAC Offensive Player of the Week after her performance at Temple where she reached a career high of 24 kills. She beat her record again on Thursday with 26 kills.

South Florida narrowly won both sets 25-22.

However, USF let its guard down in the third set. ECU dominated and clinched its first and only set win of the night 25-15. 

Although the Bulls lost the third set, coach Jolene Shepardson said USF learned the value of playing more aggressively during its five-set match against Temple on Nov. 2.

“That’s the biggest difference I’ve seen [in them] ” Shepardson said.

It showed in the fourth set as the Bulls shut out the Pirates 25-20. USF totaled 16 kills compared to 11 from ECU. 

Along with USF’s aggressive return to the court, Andrade’s high energy also impacted her team’s momentum in the winning set. 

“When we are down is when we most need hyper [energy],” Andrade said. “Everything is already bad so we need to encourage ourselves so we can do better.”

Shepardson said Andrade’s linear improvement has been pivotal to the Bulls’ success this season.

“[Andrade] is really taking ownership as a leader,” Shepardson said. “I’m proud of the consistent, all-around player she’s been. Her fighting spirit is really leading us.” 

USF 3 ECU 2, Friday 

South Florida looked to build upon their win on Thursday but were met with adversity during the five sets. 

Shepardson said she was proud of her team for proving they can win taxing games while being pushed to the edge.

“I love the grit [and] that attitude,” Shepardson said. “They were not giving it to us so I’m glad that we had to go earn that.” 

USF got off to a shaky start but came back with 10 unanswered points to gain the lead before their scoring run ended at 15-12.

Sophomore outside hitter Buse Hazan’s seventh kill helped the Bulls win a close set 25-23. 

The second set held another tough start for USF as the Pirates maintained a lead and ended in a dominant fashion with a 25-12 score.

The Bulls entered the third set looking to bounce back and led by as many as six points as they edged towards making the game 2-1. 

Hazan suffered a slight injury while the Bulls were up 23-22 and had to be taken out briefly. The Pirates managed to turn the game around with a 3-0 scoring run to win the set 25-23.

No team could sustain a distinctive lead during the fourth set coming down to a theatrical ending. 

ECU stayed in a two-point lead despite a constant back-and-forth as the set was coming to an end.

Hazan led the Bulls to overcome the deficit with two quick kills and to end the fourth set 31-29. 

This competitive spirit to the previous sets was brought to the fifth with each team matching the other’s scoring runs.

Senior outside hitter Marta Cvitkovic, who was a freshman when Shepardson joined the program in January 2020, provided the game-winning kill as the fifth set ended 15-12.

Cvitkovic was one of the two Bulls players to be honored before the game as part of Senior Day.

The Bulls players cleared the bench and rushed to the court to celebrate after the hard-fought win.Shepardson was brought to tears with the winning kill.

She said she was proud of Cvitkovic for sticking with the program and now providing an important win for the team.

“I hope she feels [despite] everything that we’ve been through, that she’s created all of this and she’s leaving her legacy,” Shepardson said.

Shepardson said her team remained calm and is taking a game-by-game approach to the rest of the games as the division title is on the horizon for the Bulls.