Facing some of the nation’s best teams at the start of the season, the Pitt women’s volleyball team got off to a disappointing 1-2 start last week, and after their first match this past weekend in Dayton, Ohio, it looked like the massive amounts of errors were becoming a trend.
“I’m really disappointed with how we are taking the court,” Head Coach Dan Fisher said in a press release. “We are not coming out ready to go and we need to find the fix to that pretty quick.”
The team must’ve gotten the message, as they drastically improved on Sunday, limiting their mistakes and salvaging a weekend split against the Iowa State Cyclones (5-0) and Dayton Flyers (3-3) to move to 2-3 on the young season.
The Panthers dropped the opening match of the weekend against No. 25 Iowa State, coming up short in a tight five-set match Saturday afternoon.
This was Pitt’s sloppier performance on the weekend, as the team made 34 errors to the Cyclones’ 18.
At the start of the first set, it seemed the Panthers would be able to stick with the Cyclones, tying the match at 8-8 early on. But the Cyclones quickly pulled away, taking a commanding 20-13 thanks to a 7-1 run, going on to win the set 25-16.
The second set brought much of the same for the Panthers, as Iowa State kept their momentum going to build an early 8-3 lead. Pitt managed to make the set interesting — bringing it within two points at 21-19 — before dropping the last four points to lose the set 25-19, going down 2-0.
The Cyclones’ attack was very similar in the two sets, dominating the Panthers in kills, 31-17.
Redshirt senior Samara West was the main reason for their success, converting nine of her 10 kill attempts. On the day, West had 15 kills, second in the match behind Pitt sophomore Nika Markovic, who had 16.
Just as it seemed the Panthers were out of it, they started coming back in the third set, threatening to make it 2-1 behind junior Hanna Markewycz’s strong service game.
Markewycz came in as a sub with Pitt up 11-10, reeling off two service aces to help the Panthers grow their advantage. The Panthers didn’t lose the lead the rest of the set, winning it in convincing fashion, 25-16.
In the fourth set, the Cyclones had another chance to put the match away but again came up short. Things were close almost the entire set, as the Panthers kept a consistent but slim lead.
Late in the set, the Panthers led 21-17 and needed to hold off the Cyclones to force a fifth set. They succeeded, winning four out of six points down the stretch to take the set 25-19.
The fifth set was competitive throughout and included another standout performance by Markewycz — who added two more service aces. Tied at 15, the first team to gain a two-point advantage would take the match. The Cyclones converted, winning 21-19 on the last of the Panthers’ attacking errors and keeping their undefeated season alive.
The Panthers returned to play Sunday against host team Dayton, and although the match was filled with far less suspense, the Panthers were pleased with the result as they swept the Flyers 3-0.
Unlike their previous matchup, the Panthers were able to keep their errors under control, allowing them to use their firepower to their advantage.
It was all Pitt at the start of the match, as the Flyers almost never led in the opening set. After going down 2-0, the Panthers took 10 of the next 13 points to go up 10-5. They held onto the lead for the rest of the set, surviving a late Dayton rally to win 25-21.
The second set was much tighter, consisting of 10 ties and five lead changes. With a 17-16 lead, the Panthers stepped up, extending their advantage to three with an ace by sophomore Nika Markovic and a kill by redshirt sophomore Stephanie Williams. The group continued to pull away, taking the second set 25-19.
Pitt closed strong as well, easily handling the Flyers in the third set with a .448 hit percentage. They won the set 25-19, with Markovic getting the kill on match point, one of eight she had on the day.
Despite only achieving a 1-1 record for the weekend, the Panthers can take a lot away from the tournament moving forward. The team showed great resilience in fighting back from a 2-0 deficit against the Cyclones — who finished the weekend undefeated — and they looked to find their rhythm against Dayton.
Next week, the Panthers have three matchups as part of the Western Kentucky invitational. They’ll take on Saint Louis and Western Kentucky on Friday before playing Eastern Tennessee State Saturday, looking to get above .500 for the first time in 2017.