It was a close match, but team leader junior middle blocker Valentina Zaloznik, last week’s WCC Player of the Week, and the rest of the Dons were able to hang on for dear life to pull out a victory against the University of Pacific. USF defeated the Tigers (11-9, 4-5 WCC) in five sets, 26-24, 25-21, 19-25, 18-25, 15-8, on Saturday, Oct. 18 at War Memorial Gym.
The Dons, who are now 9-10 on the season and 5-4 in conference play, were coming off a big win against Bay Area rival St. Mary’s on Thursday. Senior outside hitter/ middle blocker Malina Terrell and freshman opposite/outside hitter Katarina Pilepic led USF to the four set, 25-21, 17-25, 25-23, 2518 victory against the Gaels. San Francisco is one of just four WCC teams above .500 so far this season. On Saturday, the first two sets were anything but controlled as the lead went back and forth, foreshadowing that the Dons would be in it for the long haul. Sensing a distinct rhythm that USF got into time and again, Pacific called several timeouts in the first two sets, but this was to no avail as the Dons were able to outlast the Tigers to go up 2-0.
Whatever Tigers Head Coach Greg Gibbons said to refocus his squad before the third set did the trick, as they marched out to an early 6-1 lead that the Dons never overcame. The lead see-sawed back and forth again in the fourth set, with the Tigers eventually holding on at the end to tie it up at 2-2.
Sensing a change in momentum that included two questionable calls by the referees, the Tigers looked like they were in prime position to win in the fifth set. However, the experience and demeanor of the Dons were too much for the Tigers to complete the comeback. “It was not the first time this year that we have faced the fifth set so we knew what we were heading into,” Zaloznik said. “We knew we had to set up our game and fight back.”
The Dons did just that, as they held off Pacific 15-9 in the fifth set. The Tigers were looking to improve to their WCC record to 5-4 with the win, but the defense and hitting power of the Dons was simply too much for the Tigers to handle, as the dynamic duo of Zaloznik and Terrell posted 36 kills, leading an unstoppable Dons attack. Blocks were key for the Dons as well, exhilarating the crowd and helping the team at pivotal moments.
“We got some huge blocks in perfect timings,” said Zaloznik.
With the help of these well-timed blocks, the Dons were able to pick up their fifth WCC win and gather some momentum heading into their next match, which will be against Santa Clara on Friday, Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at War Memorial Gym.