Nov. 21, 2008
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Freshman outside hitter Visnja Djurdjevic tallied a team-best 12 kills and senior middle blocker Jen Linder paced the Green Wave with 14.0 points courtesy of nine kills, two aces and six block assists as the top-seeded Tulane University volleyball team defeated No. 9 seed UCF, 3-0, in the 2008 Conference USA Championship quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
Tulane won the opening set in convincing fashion, 25-18, but had to work overtime in set No. 2 to claim a hard-fought 27-25 decision. In what proved to be the final set, Tulane jumped out to an early 11-6 lead and never looked back en route to a 25-17 victory.
The win was the 14th straight for the Green Wave, who improve to 25-5 on the year and advance to take on the winner of Thursday's Houston/Tulsa matchup at noon on Saturday in the C-USA semifinals. A win on Saturday would send Tulane to the C-USA Championship match for the first time in school history, and the winner of that match earns the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament - which would also be a first for the Green Wave program. UCF, meanwhile, concludes its season at 15-17.
"It is definitely a positive to make it to the semifinals of a tournament," Tulane head coach Liz Kritza said. "Any time that you are going to play anything in the postseason - conference tournament or NCAA Tournament - it really is a whole new season. Everyone starts with a clean slate and the same record, and this is like our first win of that season.
"Pulling out a three-set victory in our first match of the tournament is something we are all pleased with because we have to play three matches in a row if we are to win this thing. And while we won, we have a lot of room for improvement in a lot of areas. I know this team will get better, but we do not have a lot of time. We have to correct those areas and make sure that we are better by tomorrow. As you advance, the pressure increases and the level of play increases, and that is our ultimate goal."
Djurdjevic and senior outside hitter Sara Radosevic tied for second on the club with 13.5 points apiece, Linder hit .615 for the match with just one error in 13 swings, and Radosevic posted a match-best four aces. Her four scores from the serving stripe gives her 187 for her career, which breaks the former record of 186 set by Gina Vaccaro from 1990-93.
Radosevic led the Green Wave with nine digs while senior Luna Rebrovic and junior Rachel Lindelow had 20 and 14 assists, respectively. Tulane out-blocked UCF, 10.5-4.0, including four block assists each by senior right-side hitter Bridget Wells and sophomore middle blocker Lindsey Shepard.
"Credit goes to out to Visnja (Djurdjevic)," Kritza said. "She showed today why she is deserving of all of the freshman honors she received. She has to be Sara's (Radosevic) counterpart. She has to score as high as Sara or even higher, and she did that today. She tied Sara for points today. Jen (Linder) also came up big today with a .615 hitting percentage. She is usually error-free in her game and her performance today was a very Linder-like performance.
"I think those are two balanced performances today and it takes a total performance to win a match like this. We need to make some adjustments to our defense and need our players to understand what their particular position is in the team's plan, and we need to execute those changes."
The Green Wave got off to a good start and scored the first three points of the match, but the Knights rallied to tie the set at 6-all and led10-9 seven serves later. From there, however, Tulane used a 7-0 run - including three consecutive aces by Radosevic - to take a 16-10 advantage it would not relinquish. The Wave used a 4-0 rally later in the stanza to stretch the lead to eight at 21-13 and Tulane cruised to a seven-point victory.
Set No. 2 started in a similar fashion as Tulane jumped out to an early 9-4 lead, but UCF answered in a big way. The Knights rallied back to tie the score at 11-all and neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way. The Wave appeared to take control of the set at 24-21, but UCF took advantage of a pair of kills by Janine Williams and a Tulane error to tie things up. The Tigers staved off another set point at 25-24, but Tulane got back-to-back kills by sophomore Amaris Genamaras and Radosevic to put the set away and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was all Tulane as the Green Wave scored the first point of the stanza and never trailed. UCF tied the score at 3-3, but the Wave used a 4-0 rally to take a 7-4 advantage. The lead swelled to seven at 17-10 and Tulane outscored the Knights, 8-7 the rest of the way to advance.
"The last time we played UCF, we did not play our cleanest match," Kritza said. "I think they are one of the most improved teams in our conference this season. Credit goes out to (UCF head coach) Todd (Dagenais) and his bunch. We are not tested like this often enough. We need to be in matches like this in order to improve. UCF put together a really good match. They did a good job of matching up on us and they really made us make some adjustments in our game.
"There were moments today when I saw some really good things from our side of the net. But there were plenty where we had so much room for improvement, which I think is a good thing. If anything, you do not want to be playing your best volleyball on the first day of a consecutive three-day tournament."
Williams led UCF with a match-best 16 kills while Stephanie Serna was next with 12. Lauren Rosenthal paced all players with 30 assists, Kathleen Curry tallied 11 digs and Jenny Heppert led the Knights' front-line defense with a pair of block assists.