Volleyball sweeps Virginia in ACC opener


Thomas J. Yang

Senior Kamalani Akeo (3) and redshirt senior Angela Seman (16) celebrate during the third set. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Alex Lehmbeck, Staff Writer

In a rare mid-week volleyball matchup, Pitt (12-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) faced a struggling University of Virginia squad (4-7 overall, 0-1 ACC) to begin ACC play for both teams. The Panthers came into Wednesday night’s game riding a perfect 5-0 record in ACC openers, and extended that streak to six with a dominant 3-0 win over the Cavaliers.

After a tight back-and-forth start to the match, Pitt finally strung together a run to take a four-point lead, 17-13. The Cavaliers took a timeout to regroup — but that did nothing to stop the Panthers’ momentum as they took the first set 25-17 off a kill from junior hitter Layne Van Buskirk.

“We started off a little slow, which we’ve been working on all season,” Pitt senior libero and captain Angela Seman said. “Just as we were coming into tough situations we were like, ‘Hey, listen, we can beat this team if we just play Pitt-good. Let’s go back, let’s not try to do anything spectacular. Let’s just be Pitt-good.’ I think that was just the whole story of the match, us playing our game and not trying to do anything special.”

In the second set, Virginia started to find its rhythm. After falling behind 4-7, Pitt head coach Dan Fisher called for a timeout. Down 6-12 moments later, he called one more. With Virginia eventually notching a 20-13 lead, it looked like the Cavaliers were in perfect position to even up the match at a set apiece.

“We just weren’t being us,” Fisher said. “We play a very aggressive style. We like to swing and hit really hard, even if it means making a few errors. There was just a number of sequences where we weren’t hitting the ball hard and being aggressive.”

Backs against the wall, the Panthers came roaring back, winning 10 of the next 11 points. A kill from junior hitter Stephanie Williams ultimately gave Pitt the set 25-23. Williams finished the match with a team-leading 13 kills and .400 attacking percentage.

“We were like, ‘We’re a better team than this. We know we’re a better team this. We should be dominating them, not playing down to their level,’” Seman said. “We just went back out there like, ‘No ball is hitting our floor. We’re gonna put this game away.’ We brought it more as a team than as individual players.”

The third set was another close one. Neither team gained more than a one-point lead for the first 17 points. With the score knotted up at 19 apiece, junior hitter Alix Dreier’s kill gave Pitt its first lead of the set since an early 5-4 advantage. Seman closed the night with an ace to give the Panthers a 25-21 third-set win and an 11th-straight victory in the form of a sweep.

“We were pretty good late in the match,” Fisher said. “I thought we weren’t super focused for a lot of it, but when it mattered, we were. That’s something we’ve been doing well all year. We’ve actually been statistically playing a lot better when we’re down in matches. We need to be a little more consistent, but it’s good we’ve been able to find a way.”

Wednesday was a significant night for Seman, in particular. She entered the match third in Pitt history with 1,595 career digs, only seven behind Delaney Clesen. Her 12 digs against Virginia were good enough for Seman to pass Clesen as second all-time in program history.

“It’s come a long way from my redshirt freshman year to now,” Seman said. “I just have to give all the credit to my coaching staff and teammates for pushing me and making me the best player I can be.”

Fisher also voiced his vote of confidence for his veteran leader.

“She’s been a starter for four years,” Fisher said. “She’s a really improved player in many areas, but she came in here and was a good defender. The thing about her defense is she has a big range, she can dig more than balls just right at her. I’m not surprised she’s second all-time now.”

Seman and fellow senior setter Kamalani Akeo led the team in digs with 12 and 10, respectively. Sophomore hitter Chinaza Ndee also contributed a stellar performance, pacing the Panthers with five blocks and a second-best 12 kills.

The Panthers will look to continue their hot streak on Friday at 7 p.m. in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 9-3 on the season.