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Volleyball loses first conference games in North Carolina

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Mariah Bell (10) and the Panthers suffered back-to-back losses against Duke and Wake Forest in North Carolina this past weekend. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

Mariah Bell (10) and the Panthers suffered back-to-back losses against Duke and Wake Forest in North Carolina this past weekend. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

Mariah Bell (10) and the Panthers suffered back-to-back losses against Duke and Wake Forest in North Carolina this past weekend. Edward Major | Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich | Staff Writer

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The Pitt volleyball team left for North Carolina with a flawless ACC record, but returned with a pair of losses against the Duke Blue Devils and Wake Forest Demon Deacons over the weekend.

The Panthers (13-5-0 overall, 4-2 ACC) first took on Duke (10-5-0 overall, 4-1-0 ACC) Friday in Durham, North Carolina, suffering their first conference loss of the season, 3-1. On Sunday they traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and dropped a 3-1 match to Wake Forest.

Pitt played Duke tough from the start, with each team scoring back and forth until they reached a 9-9 tie.

From here, Duke took the upper hand and scored on 10 of the next 14 points to grab a 19-13 lead. The Blue Devils never let go of this advantage and cruised to take the first set 25-18.

Duke only hit seven kills in the opening set, but the Panthers’ 11 errors kept them from gaining any momentum and putting up consistent scoring.

Pitt cleaned up the errors in the second set and came out to grab an early 5-2 lead, but Duke closed the gap and eventually forced a 15-15 tie.

The Panthers went on a run, taking seven of the next 10 points to take a 22-18 lead. Pitt easily took the second set, 25-20, to tie the match.

Outside hitter Stephanie Williams contributed largely to the second win, racking up six out of the team’s 14 kills.

Things continued to look up for the Panthers at the start of the third set, as they jumped out to a 9-5 lead. Duke responded by going on a big scoring run to take a 16-13 lead, then kept on the attack and eventually took the set, 25-17.

On the brink of their first ACC loss of the year, the Panthers put up their best offensive performance of the match with 16 kills. Duke matched their intensity and hit the same amount of kills, but at a more effective attacking percentage of .405 compared to .250.

The two lead attackers for the Panthers — Williams and Mariah Bell — kept the Panthers’ score close to the Blue Devils. But after drawing at 8-8, Pitt didn’t hold another tie or lead, and Duke took the final set, 25-20, and the match, 3-1.

Williams and Bell highlighted the Panther attack, hitting 19 and 14 kills, respectively.

“We didn’t accomplish anything we set out to do in the match,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said Friday in a press release. “Duke posted more digs and blocks than us, and were better in long rallies. We are going to need to have a lot better defensive effort to beat a much-improved Wake Forest team Sunday.”

The even team play for the Blue Devils, with five players posting at least seven kills, proved to be too much for the Panthers Friday.

On Sunday, Pitt took on Wake Forest (7-10-0 overall, 3-3-0 ACC) — another important conference opponent for the Panthers.

Pitt came out to a very slow start, dropping eight of the first 10 points to open up at an 8-2 deficit. The Demon Deacons took the first set, 25-21.

The second set was much closer throughout, as the Panthers cleaned up their play. Neither team could separate from one another as the match came to a 20-20 tie. Wake Forest then seized some momentum to win five of the next seven points, ending play 25-22.

Finally figuring out the formula to break through against the Demon Deacons, Pitt played a tight third set which it eventually took by a score of 25-21. Williams hit five of her of nine kills in this frame and Bell’s four kills helped the Panthers grab a lead and never look back.

This strong play disappeared in the fourth set, as the Panthers were throttled by the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest took a commanding 8-1 lead, which kept widening throughout the set. Pitt cut the deficit to as low as four points at 9-5, but from that point, the Demon Deacons took complete control to win the fourth set, 25-11, and the match, 3-1.

“I think the only thing we did better than Wake Forest today was serving and passing, and that was by a small margin,” Fisher said Sunday in a press release. “I was fairly pleased with that but they outplayed us in every other category, so congratulations to them. They deserved to win.”

Other than Pitt’s lack of focus, the real issue in the match was offensive. Bell and Williams had 14 and nine kills, respectively. But each hit below a .100 attack percentage, representing their inefficient offensive output.

“After this road trip, we learned a lot about ourselves,” Fisher said in the release. “It’s time to hit the reset button, work really hard and gain some confidence back in practice.”

The Panthers will get a chance to rebound Friday in Miami when they take on the Hurricanes at 7 p.m.

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Volleyball loses first conference games in North Carolina