Pitt volleyball makes NCAA Tournament after pair of weekend wins


Stephanie Williams (13) accumulated 14 kills for the Pitt volleyball team in a season-ending 3-1 loss to Penn State. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich | Staff Writer

The Pitt volleyball team finished its regular season with a flourish, recording two big wins in its final two games and claiming a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

With most of Pitt’s students home for Thanksgiving break, the Panthers (24-8 overall, 14-5 ACC) first swept the Virginia Tech Hokies (13-18 overall, 8-12 ACC) Wednesday on senior night at the Fitzgerald Field House. Pitt then went on the road to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the regular season finale against the Virginia Cavaliers (7-25 overall, 4-16 ACC), winning the match 3-1.

The team then discovered it had earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004 while watching the selection show Sunday night.

“This has been four years in the making,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said in a press release Sunday night. “I’m extremely proud of this group of girls and I’m also thankful for a very supportive administration and a school that loves volleyball.”

Putting on one of their strongest offensive performances of the season, the Panthers came out Wednesday and took an early 8-6 lead against the Hokies. Responding and taking the lead, Virginia Tech won six out of the next seven points to take a 12-9 lead.

Continuing in the set, the Hokies maintained their three point advantage at 20-17. From there, Pitt turned the set around and won eight out of the next 11 points to take the first set, 25-23. During this run, first-year Nika Markovic put on a show hitting four kills.

Keeping this momentum, the Panthers burst out to a 10-3 lead to open the second set. With Pitt keeping the lead throughout, the Hokies only managed to bring the score within three points for a brief period.

The Hokies hit four more errors in the second set than the first while the Panthers hit one fewer error than the first set, which helped explain the lopsided score.

Eventually, Pitt took the second set, 25-18, taking a 2-0 lead in the match.

Pitt kept up strong play in the third set, leading from start to finish. After capturing a 7-3 lead in the set, the Panthers never looked back. Senior middle blocker Jenna Potts hit five of her seven total kills in the third set to help Pitt keep up the offensive intensity.

After playing their most efficient set in the third at a .371 attack percentage, the Panthers pulled out a 25-19 set win to take the match, 3-0.

Everyone on the Pitt side had a very efficient game offensively, but redshirt freshman Stephanie Williams shined — hitting 15 kills at a whopping .444 attack percentage.

The Panthers then traveled to Charlottesville on Saturday night to end to the regular season against Virginia.

Pitt and Virginia played evenly to start the match, reaching a 10-10 tie in the first set. The Panthers then hit their stride offensively and at the service line, winning 10 of the next 13 points while hitting three aces during that stretch to take a 20-13 lead.

WIth such a large lead, the Panthers coasted and won the first set, 25-17.

But the Cavaliers rebounded in the second set and jumped out to an early 8-3 lead. Virginia maintained the advantage through the rest of the set and eventually won it by a score of 25-18. The key factor in this set was the offensive output from Virginia. The Cavaliers hit 15 kills in the set compared to only nine in the first set, while posting an efficient .433 attack percentage.

The Panthers retook the lead in the match by coming out with their best offensive performance in the third set.

Grabbing an early 6-2 lead, Pitt made it clear it would dictate play. The Panthers kept the Cavaliers on the defensive by slamming home 17 kills to go with only one error. This forced Virginia into hitting six errors, the most the Cavaliers hit in any set against Pitt.

The early lead only grew for the Panthers as they won the third set, 25-17, and took a 2-1 match lead.

Then, the Panthers came out and throttled Virginia in the fourth set to finish off the season with a convincing victory.

The teams pulled even at a 5-5 tie early on, then Pitt got rolling. Going on a run similar to that in the first set, the Panthers won 12 of the next 14 points to take a huge lead at 17-7. Holding a 20-11 lead, Pitt then won the next five points to finish off the match in style, 25-11.

The Panthers clinched their final regular season match in commanding fashion. Williams, Markovic and Mariah Bell each tallied at least 10 kills with an attack percentage over .300.

“This was one of our stronger serving games of the season, but the thing we were most pleased with was the offense,” Fisher said in a press release after the match. “One of the priorities going into the season was to be a very balanced team, so it’s fitting that in our last game of the season we had so many players contributing.”

Finishing their season at 24-8, the Panthers found out on Sunday night that they will take part in the NCAA Tournament. Their first round match will be at 5 p.m. against the University of Dayton on Dec. 2 at University Park, Pennsylvania.

“Dayton is a team that we played two years ago and they obviously had a great year,” Fisher said in the release Sunday night. “We are going to train and prepare all week and are going to try and make Pittsburgh proud.”

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