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Volleyball concludes Panther Invitational, 2-1

Pitt+Volleyball+took+on+Coastal+Carolina+this+past+weekend+at+the+Fitzgerald+Field+House.++Edward+Major+%7C+Staff+Photographer
Pitt Volleyball took on Coastal Carolina this past weekend at the Fitzgerald Field House.  Edward Major | Staff Photographer

Pitt Volleyball took on Coastal Carolina this past weekend at the Fitzgerald Field House. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

Pitt Volleyball took on Coastal Carolina this past weekend at the Fitzgerald Field House. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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Coming off an undefeated weekend at the UCSB Thunderdome Classic in Santa Barbara, California, the Pitt volleyball team made its regular season home debut at the Fitzgerald Field House over the weekend.

The Panthers welcomed Coastal Carolina, American University and No. 22 University of Michigan for the Panther Invitational tournament Friday and Saturday. After a 3-1 series loss to a strong Coastal Carolina team Friday night, Pitt responded with a 3-1 series win over American Saturday afternoon and capped the tournament off with a five-set victory over Michigan Saturday night.

In their matchup against the 5-1 Chanticleers Friday, the Panthers struggled to get the ball on the other side of the net because of some sloppy plays.

Match one

To start the match, the Chanticleers throttled Pitt and its sputtering offense. Despite only hitting 10 kills, Coastal Carolina played efficiently and capitalized on nine Pitt errors to easily take the first set, 25-17.

“Sometimes we resort to making tentative swings, and that’s when we make errors,” senior middle blocker Jenna Potts said.

Pitt found some consistency from the center in the second set through Potts and first-year middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk, and Coastal Carolina racked up 7 errors. Pitt made quick work of the Chanticleers and took the set, 25-14.

Coastal Carolina consistently made the big play or big kill on the backs of two-time Big South Player of the Year Leah Hardeman and senior middle blocker Annayka Legros, and the Panthers ended up dropping the last two sets with a combined 16 errors to lose the match, 3-1.

“Our mental state wasn’t where it needed to be,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said after the match. “Both of our middles played pretty well, but it was a completely different team than a week ago.”

Match two

As quickly as the Panthers fell into the depths of offensive struggle, they pulled themselves out against American University Saturday, achieving a 3-1 match victory on the back of some gaudy offensive statistics.

Three Pitt players hit 10 or more kills in the match, with Stephanie Williams leading the team with 25 kills on 44 attempts.

As a team, the Panthers never hit below 16 kills in a set –– a far cry from their high of 14 kills against Coastal Carolina.

Match three

The most thrilling match of the tournament came in the third and final match against No. 22 Michigan.

Pitt came out fired up to knock off its second ranked team of the season, starting with a .310 attack percentage compared to .211 for the Wolverines. This helped propel the Panthers to a 25-22 set victory.

Michigan rebounded in the second set to win 25-23 after the Panthers’ offense slowed down and committed a whopping 11 errors. The next two sets remained closely contested but were ultimately decided by which team made fewer mistakes.

In the third set, Michigan tallied a remarkable 20 kills but also made 10 errors, which led to Pitt’s 28-26 win. In the fourth set, the Wolverines out hit the Panthers and forced a deciding fifth set with a 25-20 victory.

In the shortened fifth set –– where the first team to 15 points wins the set and the match –– Pitt immediately faced a deficit but kept battling back.

Down 12-9, Fisher called a timeout to regroup –– something he did when trailing No. 25 Colorado State, 11-8, in the fifth set at the UCSB Thunderdome Classic last week. That time, the Panthers rallied for seven straight points to cap a five-set victory.

This time was no different.

Fisher’s timeout helped spark the team to win six points in a row on the strength of three kills from Williams to clinch the 15-12 win in the set and a 3-2 match victory. Beating another ranked team to move to 7-2 on the season demonstrated the growth the team could make in one weekend.

“I think we all feel a little added pressure [this season] just because we are a completely new team,” junior Mariah Bell said about feeling pressure as an upperclassman. “I don’t necessarily think it’s because we lost some of our good players but because we have so many new incoming players.”

With a second win over a ranked team in the books, the Panthers next host Western Kentucky at the Fitzgerald Field House, 7 p.m. Friday, to begin the Panther Challenge tournament.

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Volleyball concludes Panther Invitational, 2-1