Volleyball splits weekend matches at home against Wake Forest and Duke


Mariah Bell (10) accumulated 30 kills over the weekend for the Panthers. Edward Major II / TPN File Photo

By David Leftwich | Staff Writer

After losing to both the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Duke Blue Devils on the road in October, the Pitt volleyball team managed to vanquish only one of the two hellish opponents over the weekend.

On Friday at the Fitzgerald Field House, Pitt (overall 20-7, 11-4 ACC) crippled Wake Forest (overall 9-17, 5-10 ACC) in a three-set match, but fell to Duke (18-6, 12-2 ACC) on Sunday.

To start off their match against Wake Forest, the Panthers came out to an immediate 4-0 deficit. They picked up their play and gradually took the lead, widening it to 18-11.

Pitt maintained this gap and edged the score to 21-14. With the set seemingly over, the Demon Deacons made a push and reduced the deficit to three points at 24-21. Pitt finished off Wake Forest on redshirt freshman Stephanie Williams’ kill to take the first set 25-21.

Staying on the offensive, Pitt opened up the second set with an immediate 4-0 lead. Wake Forest responded and worked its way back into the set to tie the match at 9.

From this point, the set remained tight with the pair of teams trading leads until Pitt held a slight advantage at 18-17. Pitt won five of the next six points to separate itself from Wake Forest and hold a 23-18 lead. Eventually, Pitt capped off the set with a service ace from Angela Seman to clinch the second set 25-20 and take a 2-0 lead in the match.

Rebounding in hopes of staying in the match, Wake Forest took an early 6-3 advantage. Pitt responded by winning the next five points, highlighted by Jenna Potts’ two kills during the stretch to take an 8-6 lead.

This momentum remained for the set with the Panthers taking a 24-21 lead, and the match on the cusp of ending. But the Demon Deacons went on a straight three-point run to tie the match at 24. Quickly regrouping, the Panthers won three out of the next four points to take the set, 27-25, and the match, 3-0, to earn their 20th win of the season.

Williams and Mariah Bell led the offensive assault for the Panthers, putting down 16 and 12 kills respectively. Williams had an especially impressive match, hitting an efficient .696 attack percentage, while leading the team in kills.

“I think we served and passed a lot better than we did the first time and it definitely helped having Nika [Markovic] back,” head coach Dan Fisher said about the difference between this match and the first meeting between the two teams in October.

Looking to make up for another early season loss, Pitt continued fueling its fire from Friday to take on Duke.

Both teams started off the match with consistent offensive and defensive tactics, tying the game at 8. Surging to win six of the next eight points, and forcing a Duke timeout, Pitt separated itself from the Blue Devils and took a 14-10 lead.

Despite three service errors through the early part of the set, Pitt extended the lead to 18-12 and forced another Duke timeout. Storming its way back into the set, Duke won 13 of the next 17 points to take the first set 25-22.

The Panthers’ poor defensive efforts in the middle of the court contributed to the team’s eventual loss.

“I don’t think we executed our scouting report very well against number 11 [senior Jordan Tucker],” Bell said. “We were trying to get over the net on her but we just weren’t getting into the angles she was hitting.”

The second set began in a similar fashion to the first, with both teams drawing to a 5-5 tie. Faced with the difficulty of producing offense against the stellar blocking of the Blue Devils, Pitt began to play sloppy and disjointed, causing it to fall behind 11-7.

Playing in deficit throughout most of the set, Pitt started to work its way back into the match and cut the Blue Devil lead to one at 20-19 and eventually pulling even with Duke after a kill by Bell to 24-24.

After coming back from multiple match points in Duke’s favor, Pitt lost the set, 28-26, to fall behind two sets to zero. Besides getting burned through the middle, the Panthers struggled to get their own shots through Duke’s commanding defense.

“They’re a really good blocking team and they get high up on the net and their middles especially were all over us,” first-year Layne Van Buskirk said. “We just had to try our best to get around them.”

Jumping out to an early 6-3 lead in the third set, Pitt poised itself for a comeback. But the Blue Devils came back to take an advantageous 15-14 lead.

Pitt won the next seven points to erase Duke’s lead and tie the game at 18. The Blue Devils started to swing the momentum back in their favor to grab a 23-22 lead, and on a controversial touch call, notched up a 24-22 lead. The Panthers took the next point, but made a serving error on the following play to lose the set 25-23 and the match 3-0.

“It was a tough loss, but of course we can always come back from it, so if we just win the next four games I think we are going to do well,” said Bell.

Coming down the stretch, the Panthers will look to conquer Syracuse next Friday in Syracuse, New York Nov. 18, at 7 p.m.