After a rough start to the season in which the Dons lost four of their first five matches, USF finally emerged on the victorious side at the Aztec Invitational in San Diego.
The Dons went 3-1 in their four matches in the tournament, which occurred on Sept. 13-14. Two USF players were named to the Aztec Invitational All-Tournament Squad –– junior middle blocker Valentina Zaloznik and freshman opposite/outside hitter Katarina Pilepic.
On the final day of competition, USF went up against Harvard and San Diego State, and the Dons ended up splitting their match-ups against the two. USF was able to secure a 3-1 win against Harvard early on Saturday, by the scores of 25-20, 25-9, 16-25, and 25-20. Zaloznik led the team with 11 kills. After that, USF faced the host San Diego State Aztecs in their final match. While the Dons kept it competitive throughout each game, San Diego State was the ultimate victor. The Aztecs swept the Dons 24-26, 17-25, and 18-25.
San Francisco started the weekend with matches against Southern Methodist and Northeastern on Friday, both of which they won. The contest between USF and SMU lasted five games, but the Dons prevailed in a very close battle by defeating the SMU Mustangs 3-2 with scores of 25-21, 27-29, 27-25, 21-25, and 15-13. Pilepic and junior opposite/outside hitter Anja Segota pioneered the team to victory with 12 kills each.
Later on Friday, USF was also victorious against Northeastern 3-1, by scores of 22-25, 26-24, 25-13, and 25-19. Zaloznik again paved the way for the offense, leading the Dons with 19 kills. Her excellent performances during both Friday matches earned her a spot on the Aztec Invitational All-Tournament Squad, along with Pilepic.
After all four matches had concluded, USF improved their overall record to 4-6. Many players, aside from Zaloznik and Pilepic, contributed to the Dons’ successful weekend. Senior setter Mackenzie Murtagh had 92 assists and 38 digs by the end of the tournament. Freshman outside hitter Emily Reed had 29 kills and 10 digs during a weekend in which she made her first start in college volleyball.
“We are very proud of the entire team and how we responded,” Head Coach Gilad Doron said to usfdons.com. “We learned a lot more about our team depth this weekend and got three wins. At times we played with four and five freshmen on the floor, and everyone stepped up,” Doron said.
The victories that the Dons secured in the Aztec Invitational have given the team confidence going into the rest of the season, which will consist of conference play from here on out. The Dons will face West Coast Conference opponent Loyola Marymount in their next match on Sept. 19 in Los Angeles. This match will mark the beginning of a three-game road trip for USF, and the momentum gained from the Aztec Invitational may serve them well as the season heats up.