Volleyball team swept despite seniors’ milestones

Central Florida beat Temple in three sets at McGonigle Hall on Friday despite senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz getting her 1,000th career kill and senior setter Kyra Coundourides getting her 3,000th career assist.

Then junior setter Kyra Coundourides serves during the third set of the Owls’ 3-2 victory against Memphis on Oct. 28, 2016, at McGonigle Hall. GENEVA HEFFERNAN / FILE PHOTO

Dara Peric and Izzy Rapacz just stared at each other.

Central Florida redshirt-senior outside hitter Kia Bright sent a shot in between the two senior outside hitters but neither pursued the ball. Peric looked to commit to dig the shot but Rapacz called for it. The miscommunication froze both players as the ball hit the hardwood at McGonigle Hall. Bright scored her fourth kill of the first set and Temple trailed by five as coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam called a timeout.

The Owls (16-9, 12-5 American Athletic Conference) struggled to communicate all match long against the Knights, Ganesharatnam said. Temple was swept for the first time at home this season on Friday night.

Temple’s mental focus was lacking, Rapacz said.

“We really didn’t execute the way we wanted today,” Rapacz said. “We struggled in all areas, and that’s not good if you’re trying to win. We just didn’t adjust. Today we just didn’t come to play and UCF took advantage of that.”

The Owls used a lob from Bright in the second set to set up Rapacz for her 1,000th career kill. Senior setter Kyra Coundourides sent a no-look pass to Rapacz and the senior outside hitter scored a kill towards Central Florida’s right side.

The milestone kill tied the set, but the Knights responded with an 8-0 run to pull away. Rapacz finished with 16 kills and 11 digs against Central Florida. Coundourides also had a milestone on Friday with her 3,000th career assist.

The Knights finished with 51 kills while hitting 38.9 percent, their most efficient performance of the season. Central Florida also scored five services aces against Temple.

Junior libero Mia Heirakuji had eight digs. It was only the sixth time this season she has recorded single-digit digs in a match.

“Serve receive is a really mental thing,” Heirakuji said. “If you’re feeling a little nervous or not in it completely, it’s easy to make a lot of errors. I think miscommunication and execution is what it came down to.”

The Owls struggled to defend against Central Florida’s duo of outside hitters. Bright and freshman Kristina Fisher combined for 29 kills. Bright hit 38.7 percent for 15 kills, and Fisher hit 46.4 percent for 14 kills.

The Knights have been playing efficiently recently after struggling to find consistency earlier in the season. Central Florida has won five of its last six matches. In those five wins, the Knights have swept all of their opponents and hit above their season average of 23.5 percent.

“They have some really good wing hitters,” Ganesharatnam said. “In order to manage them, or even slow them down, we really had to serve very aggressively. I don’t think we did a very good job serving, but they still have the ability to hit over you even if you do everything right. I think we had to do a better job as a team in defending them because it’s very tough to defend them one-on-one.”

Temple had just one ace and three service errors against the Knights. The Owls also only recorded 44 digs, which is their lowest mark in a loss at home this year.

Temple’s next match is on Sunday against South Florida (12-15, 7-10 The American). Temple’s loss on Friday dropped it to two games behind second-place Southern Methodist in the league.

The Owls need to do a better job of starting matches strong in order to win their remaining matches, Heirakuji said.

“We can’t lose two sets and expect to win in five all the time,” Heirakuji said. “It has to start from when the first serve comes over the net. We need better execution, better drive and a little more fight.”

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