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Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 to begin season at Kennesaw Invitational - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 to begin season at Kennesaw Invitational

Senior+Maria+Genitsaridi+started+off+her+senior+season+with+a+seven-kill+performance+against+Liberty+this+weekend.+Pitt+won+the+match%2C+3-0.++Theo+Schwarz+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photograpgher
Senior Maria Genitsaridi started off her senior season with a seven-kill performance against Liberty this weekend. Pitt won the match, 3-0.  Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photograpgher

Senior Maria Genitsaridi started off her senior season with a seven-kill performance against Liberty this weekend. Pitt won the match, 3-0. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photograpgher

Senior Maria Genitsaridi started off her senior season with a seven-kill performance against Liberty this weekend. Pitt won the match, 3-0. Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photograpgher

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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After narrowly missing the postseason last fall, Pitt volleyball started its new year with one goal in mind: securing that elusive NCAA Tournament spot.

The Panthers’ regular season started this weekend in Georgia, where they took part in the Kennesaw Invitational — their first tune-up tournament prior to conference play.

Pitt opened its season Friday with a 3-0 sweep against Liberty, then lost Saturday morning, 3-1, against Missouri. Later that evening, the Panthers defeated the host school, Kennesaw State, with a 3-0 sweep to close out the invitational.

In the first set of the season against Liberty, Pitt managed only a .107 attack percentage –– a stat that subtracts the amount of errors from the number of kills and divides it by the cumulative kill attempts. The Panthers still outhit the Lady Flames to win the set 25-15, then took the second set by the same score –– this time on the back of a .417 attacking percentage.

The third set of the opening match was more closely contested, as Liberty put up its highest offensive output with 11 kills.

With the match tied at 21 in the third set, the teams went back and forth, unable to gain more than a one-point lead. With the Panthers facing a match point down 26-25, they rebounded with three straight points to take the set, 28-26, and take the match, 3-0.

“I think we were all chomping at the bit for our first game,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said in a press release. “It was a good win and a great way to start the season.”

Senior Maria Genitsaridi and sophomore Stephanie Williams led the team with seven kills apiece in the opening match — highlighting an even all-around attack by the Panthers. First-year middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk put together a strong debut performance with six kills and a very efficient .625 attack percentage.

Pitt’s next opponent, the Missouri Tigers, proved to be a much more difficult test, even though the Panthers stormed out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. The Tigers fought their way back into the set, but Pitt eked it out by a score of 25-22.

Missouri bounced back to force a highly contested second set, where neither team held more than a three-point lead at any point.

Leading 25-24 with match point in their favor, the Panthers couldn’t finish off the set and dropped four of the next five points. Missouri took the second set, 28-26, tying the match at one.

In the third set, Pitt was again unable to finish, losing seven of the last eight points to fall 25-23.

After blowing late leads in back-to-back sets, the Panthers seemed to lose some composure in the fourth set. This allowed the Tigers to jump out to an early lead, and Missouri ended up taking the third set in commanding fashion with a 25-11 win to clinch the match, 3-1.

Excluding the fourth set, this contest was an evenly matched, hard-fought battle, where the Panthers’ inability to close out sets clearly cost them.

With a short turnaround between matches, Pitt bounced back well against Kennesaw State in the final match of the tournament.

The Panthers cruised to another sweep by scores of 25-16, 25-20 and 25-19 to finish off strong in the opening tournament of 2016. Van Buskirk led the way for Pitt with nine kills while putting up an efficient .583 attacking percentage.

“This was our first game on the road as the other two were neutrals,” Fisher said in the release. “I think this was a great growing and learning experience for us to play in a good environment and to beat a tough team.”

Throughout this tournament, the Panthers developed chemistry between setters and hitters and also identified some parts of the game that need some work, such as finishing sets. But if this weekend is any indication, Van Buskirk will be a force at middle blocker for years to come.

“We have been really excited about [Van Buskirk] since she got here, and it became pretty evident to us how good she is going to be,” Fisher said in the release. “She is a really strong learner and is getting better every time we take the court. We are excited to see her grow.”

The Panthers play next when they hit the road to Fisher’s hometown of Santa Barbara, California, to take part in the UCSB Thunderdome Classic, beginning with a match against Colorado State Saturday, Sept. 3, at 1 p.m.

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Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 to begin season at Kennesaw Invitational