This past weekend saw women’s volleyball return to the Hilltop in epic fashion as War Memorial Gymnasium hosted the USF Invitational, a two-day, six-match tournament that featured the Dons, the University of California, Riverside Highlanders, the Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, and the University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack.
Competition got underway on Sept. 6 as the Wolf Pack swept the Mastodons to the tune of 25-21, 27-25, 25-15.
In the second match of day one, the Dons battled against the UC Riverside Highlanders. The Dons were on track to claim the first set, but an offensive surge allowed the Highlanders to rally back via an 11-4 run. Back-to-back kills by senior outside hitter Kathya Garcia brought the game within one point. A tense back-and-forth deuce battle saw the Highlanders outlast the Dons to take the first set by a score of 32-30. The Highlanders’ offensive success carried into the second set as UC Riverside won the game 25-21 and went up 2-0.
Do-or-die territory in the third set lit a fire under the Dons, who opened up with a 5-0 run and led the rest of the way, eventually winning the third set 25-21. Despite trailing by a margin of no more than three points, the Dons were able to come from behind in the fourth set, 25-23, forcing a decisive fifth set. Another two kills from Garcia and an ace by sophomore setter Ally Wada were just a few of the plays that helped the Dons outlast the Highlanders and win 30-32, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-10.
Garcia was on fire throughout the entire match, as she had a career-high 26 kills. Junior outside hitter Valeria Alegrias Cambindo also had a memorable day with a season-high 12 kills.
Within two hours of defeat, the Highlanders went back out onto the court to sweep the Wolf Pack 25-23, 25-23, 25-23 in the third match of the day.
The Dons concluded the first day of their invitational in a matchup against the Mastodons. Fresh off their earlier victory, the Dons continued to dominate the first two sets as they put away the Mastodons 25-18, 25-14, to go up 2-0. The Mastodons took advantage of two USF errors and briefly went up in the third set 8-6. USF’s lapse in offense was only temporary as the Dons ignited a 13-4 run, putting the game at 19-12. The Mastodons mustered one final attack and their efforts brought the game to 20-17. The Dons secured five of the last seven points and went on to win the third set 25-19, effectively shutting out the Mastodons and capping off the day with a two-match winning streak.
The Dons secured five of the last seven points and went on to win the third set 25-19, effectively shutting out the Mastodons and capping off the day with a two-match winning streak.
Against the Mastodons, Garcia led the Dons in offense as she tallied 13 kills and three aces respectively. Wada continued making her presence felt around the court as she totaled 38 assists and nine digs. Junior libero Anna Dalla Vecchia joined the ranks of team leaders with 15 digs.
The second and final day of the USF Invitational brought two more matches to War Memorial. In the first matchup of that day, the Mastodons took on the Highlanders. The Mastodons mounted a comeback to subdue the Highlanders and take the match in five sets, 7-25, 23-25, 25-23, 29-27, 16-14.
Later in the day, the Dons returned to the court to do battle with the Nevada Wolf Pack. The first set was a tightly contested affair as the Wolf Pack never trailed USF by more than five points. A block solo by senior middle blocker Kate Ashman gave the Dons the first set, 25-21.
The first half of the second set saw action remain close between both sides. Trailing 14-9, USF called their first timeout of the set to regroup. A Wolf Pack service error brought the Dons’ deficit to four points. Trailing 19-12, the Dons called their second timeout of the set. USF would go on to put up four points, the last two coming off kills by junior opposite hitter Emily Zinger, before falling to the Wolf Pack 25-16 in the second set.
Tied at one set apiece, both sides fought tooth and nail. For a majority of the third set, neither team trailed the other by more than two points. A kill by Garcia and a solo block by Ashman made the score 20-16, the Dons’ largest lead of the set. The Wolf Pack came back from behind, eventually taking a 24-22 lead. USF fended off two set points, but the Wolf Pack squeaked by with a 25-23 victory.
With defeat looming, the Dons gave their all in the fourth set. Three consecutive points by the Dons tied the game, 6-6. This marked the final time that both sides were tied. USF spent a majority of the fourth set trailing the Wolf Pack. A kill by Ashman brought the game within six points, however the Wolf Pack was determined to keep the Dons down. USF’s final two points came off a Wolf Pack attack error and a kill by sophomore outside hitter Sophie Sydenham. In the end, the Wolf Pack defeated the Dons 21-15, 25-16, 25-23, 25-16.
Garcia finished the day leading the Dons with 15 kills, and Wada cranked out 39 of the Dons’ 46 assists. The Dons will continue their homestand on Sept. 13 and 14 when they host the Bay Area Invitational, featuring Utah State and Cornell University.