Pitt volleyball sweeps North Dakota for 18th straight win


Redshirt junior Stephanie Williams spikes the ball during Pitt’s 3-0 victory over North Dakota Tuesday night. (Photo by David Donlick | Staff Photographer)

By Alex Lehmbeck, Staff Writer

The Pitt women’s volleyball team cruised past North Dakota for a 3-0, straight set victory Tuesday night to remain undefeated deep into the 2018 season. The match lasted only one hour and seventeen minutes.

The Panthers (18-0, 6-0 ACC), in head coach Dan Fisher’s sixth season, entered the match ranked first in the ACC, No. 6 nationally in the AVCA Division I Coaches’ Poll and No. 4 in NCAA RPI. The Fighting Hawks (12-10, 4-3 SUMMIT) came in ranked No. 175 in NCAA RPI, in the middle of the pack in a weak Summit League conference. It was the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Pitt looked dominant in the first set, posting 14 kills to UND’s 7. The Hawks clearly looked outmatched, making 7 errors for an attack percentage of negative .032. A spike from first-year hitter Sabrina Starks gave the Panthers a 25-15 lead to win the set.

“We came out thinking that we were going to have to play as a team,” junior ACC player of the week Nika Markovic said. “We knew that they were gonna be a hard opponent. We knew that playing just good wasn’t going to be good enough for us to win the game.”

The second set was much more competitive. After falling behind 9-10, Pitt started to regain. Fisher won a pivotal challenge on a momentum point, putting the Panthers ahead 17-13. North Dakota put up a fight, splitting the next 16 points, but Pitt took the second set 25-21. Markovic finished the set with 6 kills, contributing toward her team-leading 11 on the night.

“I think we really executed well,” Markovic said. “Everyone was playing really hard. We were playing for each other, and that showed on the court.”

Because the match was so one-sided, Fisher gave some players a chance who don’t normally see the court much. Junior hitter Zoi Faki subbed in during the second set and started the third set. She finished the match with a career-high four kills on six attempts.

“The biggest thing for me is that when I’m coming off of the bench I have a lot of passion with what I do and I’m very focused and working hard,” Faki said. “In practice, my coaches are working with me a lot. I’m glad that it’s working.”

Junior hitter Alix Dreier, who had only previously appeared in four sets for the Panthers this season, played the entire final set of the match. She racked up two kills and an assist during her playing time.

“Zoi’s been getting better over the last month and competing more on the outside,” Fisher said. “It was nice to get her in. Alix had a nice game too, and she plays either middle or right, so it was nice to get her in on the right. We’ve gotten her in the middle a couple times this year.”

The third set was another blowout, with the Panthers proving why they are a nationally ranked squad. Pitt got off to a decisive 8-2 lead to start the set. Although the Fighting Hawks showed some life at the end, winning three Panther match points in a row, a serving error by junior libero Maggie Smith ended the match. The Panthers had 14 kills and only one attacking error in the 25-10 set win.

“We were just really efficient,” Fisher said. “For a lot of that game, we didn’t have any attacking errors. We just kept the pressure on them.”

As North Dakota was Pitt’s last non-conference matchup of the regular season, Pitt finished with a perfect 12-0 out-of-conference record for 2018. This is the first time under Fisher that the Panthers have had an undefeated non-conference regular season.

Pitt looks to continue its win streak Friday, resuming ACC play at North Carolina at 5 p.m. The Tar Heels are 5-10 on the year, 1-5 in the ACC.

“We certainly didn’t plan on being undefeated right now,” Fisher said, “But the team’s been really consistent, so that’s what we’re gonna try to keep doing going forward. I think it’ll be good to test ourselves on the road this weekend. I’m looking forward to that.”