Pitt volleyball splits straight sets during weekend play


Stephanie Williams led the Panthers with 15 kills against Notre Dame and 13 kills against Louisville this weekend. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich | Staff Writer

Continuing a tough stretch of ACC matches, the Pitt volleyball team came home to the Fitzgerald Field House to split conference matches against Notre Dame and Louisville over the weekend.

The Panthers (15-7 overall, 6-4 ACC) started play Friday night against Notre Dame, losing 3-0 in straight sets. Pitt then sprung back and walloped Louisville by the same score on Sunday afternoon.

Proving to be one of the best teams in the ACC thus far, the Fighting Irish (16-4 overall, 7-1 ACC) proved to be a resilient competitor for the Panthers on Friday.

Play was even to start the match, and the teams’ scores remained close together. When Notre Dame was up 8-6, freshman Jemma Yeadon had a series of plays where she first recorded a block and, after a Pitt point, hit two consecutive kills to create a four point gap at 11-7.

Notre Dame extended the gap from there and controlled play to take the first set 25-19. The three service aces in the set gave the Fighting Irish a huge advantage over the Panthers.

Pitt continued to struggle in keeping Notre Dame off the board when it started the second set. Despite keeping the set close from the start, errors were the demise of the Panthers.

At a 15-13 deficit, Pitt committed an error to trail by three points. After Pitt grabbed the next two points, the two teams traded errors for the following four points.

The Panthers lost the next two points from errors, and the point gap remained for the rest of the set. In a fitting fashion for this set, Pitt lost the last three points on three errors to lose 25-20 and fall behind two sets to zero.

Looking to reclaim the match, the Panthers came out and held an early lead in the third set. This lead quickly disappeared as the Fighting Irish fought their way back into the set and tied the match at 14 apiece.

After holding a tie at 16, Notre Dame went on a three-point streak. After a Panther kill, the Fighting Irish went on a four-point streak to take a commanding 22-17 point lead.

Despite a late push from the Panthers, Notre Dame took the third set 25-21 and match 3-0. This would have been a big win for the Panthers, but sloppy play and streaky defense prevented them from foiling their opponent.

“We had 11 more attacking errors and five more service errors, so I just think they did a better job of being steady,” said head coach Dan Fisher. “We made so many errors that it was hard for us to be in that match.”

On Sunday, the Panthers looked to shift their momentum and grab the win they needed against Louisville (7-12 overall, 2-7 ACC).

Coming out to an energetic crowd for a nationally televised game, Pitt held an early 6-3 lead. After a few careless plays and the Cardinals seizing a few offensive chances, the game tied up at 14.

Pitt changed its approach and came back with some great blocks at the net to grab the next six points and create a 20-14 lead. Keeping up the defensive intensity, the Panthers maintained this lead and took the first set 25-22.

The Panthers continued to dominate in the start of the second, jumping out to a 6-2 lead with Stephanie Williams hammering down two kills in the process.

After stopping the match to kill a dragonfly that appeared on the court, Pitt kept up the momentum and pushed the lead to as high as 10 points in the set.

The Panthers concluded the second set 25-15 with the help of six kills from Williams.

The increase in production in the second set was a direct effect of better communication between setters Kamalani Akeo and Williams.

“I think Kama and I communicated a lot better about where I wanted the set to be,” said Williams.

From the 2-2 mark in the third set, Pitt controlled the play in the set and never looked back. They won six of the next seven points to start a lead that would only widen throughout the set.

Continuing their strong defense, the Panthers stifled the Cardinals offense and strong play in the middle by Jenna Potts and Layne Van Buskirk served to anchor the defense and produce some serious offensive output with 14 kills between the two.

“I think Layne and I were running a bunch of different play sets which confused their blockers a bit,” said Potts. “They were playing an interesting rotation defense, so we were just finding the holes.”

Despite a few mid-set lulls in play, to the dismay of Fisher, the Panthers cruised to an easy 25-17 set win and a 3-0 match victory.

“I think we’ve been in a little bit of a rough patch, but I feel like today we really got our intensity and our skills back,” said Potts about the season moving forward. “I feel really good.”

The Panthers will get the chance to continue the good play when they take on North Carolina State Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Fitzgerald Field House.