Volleyball: Sweeps Make Sweet Ending to Season For Dons

USF closed out the season with two straight set victories against WCC rivals Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at War Memorial Gym. The Dons concluded the season with a 13-15 overall record (9-9 West Coast Conference), just edging out Pepperdine for fourth place in conference standings.

On Nov. 23, USF faced the Loyola Marymount Lions on Senior Day in what was their last game of the season. Before the game commenced, the four seniors on the team were honored for their contributions to the school. In the presence of their families, the seniors, setter Mackenzie Murtagh, libero Rebecca Kopilovitch, outside hitter Malina Terrell and defensive specialist/libero Whitney Swain, were presented with mementos from their time on the Hilltop.

“Whitney, Becky, Malina and Mackenzie were in it together to lead the team, to stay together until the end,” head coach Gilad Doron told USFDons.com. “It’s set a great tone for everybody else and this team particularly needed that. It was their presence, their will, their energy on the court today that helped us throughout this year, and especially these last two matches.”

In a game where the focus was on the seniors, it was sophomore outside hitter Ester de Vries, freshman opposite hitter Katarina Pilepic and junior middle blocker Valentina Zaloznik who led USF’s offense with 12, 10 and nine kills, respectively. Murtagh recorded a team-high 20 assists, and Kopilovitch pitched in with 10 digs.

The first set proved to be an intense battle for the two teams, who exchanged the lead 16 different times. With the score tied at 25, USF finally managed to clinch the 27-25 set victory behind a kill and a solo block from Terrell.

The next two sets followed a similar pattern, with seniors clinching the winning point both times. In the second set, the winning point came when Murtagh set up Terrell for the kill to give the Dons the win, 25-22. As for the third and final set played that day, the point that sealed USF’s victory and ended the seniors’ collegiate career came from the hands of Murtagh, who served an ace. The Dons won the third set 25-21 to wrap up the season with a sweep of the Lions.

“Oh boy, what a way to end,” Murtagh told USFDons.com. “Serving is one of my favorite parts of the game. To end on an ace is the icing on the cake. With my entire family here, and to win in three, and to win how we did was great. I couldn’t have picked it to end any better than this.”

On Nov. 21, USF made history and completed their first ever season sweep against the strong Pepperdine Waves in straight sets. The Dons made quick work of the Waves and notched the victory with scores of 26-24, 25-23 and 25-17. Pilepic, Zaloznik and Terrell led the stellar team play with 13, 12 and 10 kills, respectively.

Earlier in the season on Sept. 21, USF faced Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif. and beat them in a hard-fought 3-2 win. The Dons now boast a three-game winning streak against the Waves.

“It means a lot to get this win,” Doron told USFDons.com. “Pepperdine is one of those powerhouses in the conference and [Waves Head Coach] Nina Matthies, who is going to retire after this year, has done an amazing job of always having that team in the top 25. Getting three in a row in the past year and a half is a credit to our players and to their determination. Today, the fans just watched a great volleyball match in War Memorial Gym.”

USF’s excellent play over the last two games sends them into the offseason on a strong note. The Dons will look to improve and get ready for next fall, when they hope to solidify themselves as a contender in the WCC.

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