Just like last year, the Pitt volleyball team opened conference play with back-to-back wins at the Fitzgerald Field House this past weekend. Now the question remains if the Panthers can avoid the same losing streak they ran into on the road in Virginia in 2015.
Pitt (11-3, 2-0 ACC) began conference play Friday night against Georgia Tech, delivering an impressive 3-1 victory against the Yellow Jackets. Two days later, the Panthers made it two in a row with a dominant 3-0 sweep over Clemson Sunday afternoon.
Pitt held a lead throughout the first set against the Yellow Jackets, but a four-point advantage eroded into a 22-22 tie late in the set. This stalemate continued to 24-24 until the Panthers took the next two points after a kill and block from outside hitter Stephanie Williams and middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk.
The difference in the set was the offensive explosion from the Panthers, who hit 21 kills with a .289 attack percentage — which subtracts the amount of errors from kills and divides this number by the total number of kill attempts.
Georgia Tech recorded 14 kills in the second set, its highest total in the match. The Yellow Jackets grabbed a lead at 13-12 and retained that advantage to win the set by a score of 25-21.
“We were a little reckless offensively and we let them hit .400 so it was kind of a perfect storm of both offense and defense,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said in his post-match interview.
The difference in the match was the team’s offensive firepower, as Pitt battled to win the third and fourth set by scores of 25-19 and 25-21 to clinch the ACC opener, 3-1.
Williams led the charge for the Panthers with 21 kills and a .395 attack percentage, while junior Mariah Bell chipped in with 16 kills. With five players to hit eight or more kills, this well-balanced attack propelled the team to a victory.
“It feels really good to take this one,” Fisher said in a press release. “I know it’s early but this is one of the best teams in the league. I have a feeling that we are going to look back and say that this was a pretty big win.”
This strong offensive play carried over to Sunday when the Panthers took on the Clemson Tigers in their second match of the weekend.
The first set was the most competitive of the match, but it wasn’t very close. After taking a 4-1 lead, the Panthers maintained a steady point gap and took the set by a 25-19 score.
Clemson kept the second set close to the midway point, where the teams were knotted up at 12. From there, the Panthers took six of the next seven points and maintained this gap through the end of the set for a 25-17 victory.
After two easy set wins, Pitt kept its focus and kept the pressure on Clemson in the third set.
The Panthers dominated the Tigers, 25-9, with a .600 attacking percentage to put the match away in straight sets.
Pitt took care of two wins it needed, one against a quality opponent in Georgia Tech and one against lesser competition in Clemson. These early triumphs will be important moving forward as the Panthers get set to take on the ACC’s best.
Williams and Bell have been leading Pitt’s offense, but the team has other viable options on the roster to boost its chances for an ACC Championship spot.
Pitt will travel this week to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Blacksburg, Virginia.