Conor McDermott Welch
The Dons returned to top form this weekend, winning two out of their three matches at the Denver Invitational Tournament held at Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium. USF bounced back after a discouraging trip to Hawaii in which it went 0-3.
The tournament finale against the Nevada Wolfpack on Saturday proved to be a breeze for the Dons, who took the match in three straight sets while dominating Nevada in every facet of the game. San Francisco got solid performances from outside hitter Katarina Pilepic, who registered a double-double with 10 kills and 12 digs, and sophomore setter Kiara McKibben, who had 29 assists in her return to her home state. Most notably, senior middle blocker Valentina Zaloznik recorded 12 kills to bring her to tenth overall on the Dons’ all-time kills list. Zaloznik, along with senior outside hitter Anja Segota, earned a spot on the all-tournament first team.
“Valentina is a key player for us and has been since she arrived here three and a half years ago,” head coach Gilad Doron said. “She is the player every team tries to stop and she still finds way to get her numbers each time we play.”
Earlier in the day, the Dons snapped a five-game losing streak against UTEP in what was a grueling five set match. USF took a 2-1 lead with a third-set victory, but dropped the fourth set to set up the fifth and final set, which they won 15-8 to secure the win. It was a breakout match for redshirt sophomore middle blocker Inbar Vinarsky, who had a career-high 10 kills. McKibben recorded a match-high 39 assists, and freshman libero Kim Gutierrez had 28 digs to help the Dons come out on the right side of this marathon match.
On Friday, USF went up against the tournament’s host team, Denver, and the game ended up being the Dons’ their first five set match of the year. After falling behind 2-0 early, the Dons showed resolve in the third set with a 26-24 victory, and maintained a steady lead in the fourth set to win 25-22. However, Denver, which was backed by Ruth Okoye’s scintillating performance that included a career-high 27 kills, took the final set to squash the Dons’ comeback hopes.
The tournament concluded the Dons’ non-conference play this season, in which they finished a respectable 7-5. The Dons are now ready to move on to their WCC home opener this Friday, Sept. 26 at 7:00 p.m. against rival Santa Clara.
“I think we are in a great spot to start at home against a rival team in SCU,” Doron said. “Each time we play them it is a battle and a fun match.”