Pitt volleyball has no plans to slow down

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Pitt volleyball has no plans to slow down

The 2019 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship will be hosted in Pittsburgh at the PPG Paints Arena.

The 2019 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship will be hosted in Pittsburgh at the PPG Paints Arena.

Thomas Yang | Visual Editor

The 2019 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship will be hosted in Pittsburgh at the PPG Paints Arena.

Thomas Yang | Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Visual Editor

The 2019 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship will be hosted in Pittsburgh at the PPG Paints Arena.

By Emily Wolfe, Sports Editor

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First-year Ashley Browske was attracted to Pitt for many reasons, but it didn’t hurt that the women’s volleyball team is probably the most talented in the ACC.

Pitt’s best sports team is heading into the fall with two back-to-back conference championships under its belt and three NCAA tournament appearances in a row. This year, the team’s coaches and players are determined the team will advance further than ever before.

Browske, who plays libero/defensive specialist, joins the volleyball team as #4 this season. The upward trajectory of Pitt’s program and the feeling of competition convinced her the team was the right place to build her skills.

“When I came here on camp, I fell in love with the coaching staff and the way they preach about volleyball,” Browske said. “I’m excited to be part of this team that’s improving and playing at such a high level, and getting to compete to get playing time.”

Dan Fisher, who’s served as the team’s head coach since 2013, said that while the team is careful not to get ahead of itself, everyone on the team knows the goal for the season — to last as long as they can in the NCAA tournament and maybe even make it all the way to the end. Last year, the team won just one game against Iona before being knocked out by Michigan in the second round of the tournament.

“I don’t want anyone on our team scared to say, ‘We want to be there,’” Fisher said. “I’m not shy about it. We want to be one of the last four teams.”

To help them get there, Fisher has assembled what he says is the most grueling training schedule the players have seen during his tenure. Six playing freshmen, including Blowske, will join the veteran players on the team for the season.

“We’ve put together a schedule that’s probably the toughest we’ve ever had,” Fisher said. “When we get in the tournament, there won’t be any team that we’re not prepared to play, because we’ll have played such a good schedule.”

Outside hitter Kayla Lund, a junior, said she wants the team to bring their best to their ACC games again this year — “another championship title would be awesome” — but, like Fisher, she’s hoping the team will be able to win higher honors in the NCAA tournament.
“We are definitely looking to go farther than we ever have in the tournament,” Lund said. “Pittsburgh is hosting the Final Four this year, so to be able to play in the Final Four in Pittsburgh, that’s definitely a goal for us.”

PPG Paints Arena will host the semifinals and championship of this year’s NCAA tournament in late December, and Lund said making it far enough to play in the Final Four would be especially meaningful when the games will be played so close to home.

There’s another win that would feel especially momentous, if the team can pull it off — Pitt’s Sept. 22 home game against Penn State at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt and Penn State will play a pair of rivalry home-away games this fall, with the first match up taking place at University Park on Sept. 20.

Fisher predicted the home game against Penn State would break attendance records.

“I think we’ll break our attendance record, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t. It’s a school rival, and Penn State has been, for the last 10-20 years, if not the best team in the country, at least in the top 10,” Fisher said. “We understand what beating them would mean for the community.”

In the meantime, Fisher said, the team will focus on getting better day by day. They’ll also work on bringing more people, especially students, into the seats for the games. Students make up a minority of the crowds at volleyball games, and Fisher said his biggest goal for the year is to draw in more.

“Hopefully, our momentum from last year will catch on,” Fisher said. “Every year is a new year on the University campus. We want to snag some freshmen right away and make them fans for the next few years.”

Although she hasn’t yet been on the court for a college volleyball game, Browske understands the power of a good crowd — she’s been a part of one herself at a Pitt game and said she loved the atmosphere.

“I got to go to the game versus Duke last year where the attendance was record-breaking, and being in that environment was so cool just to watch the game,” Browske said. “Being a part of the team now, and having that kind of support, is super special to us. I’m looking forward to experiencing that.”

Elizabeth Martin contributed reporting to this story.

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