No. 10 Pitt volleyball downs Duquesne, wins sixth straight

By Alex Lehmbeck, Staff Writer

No. 10 Pitt women’s volleyball dominated crosstown rival Duquesne, 3-0 — staying unbeaten six games into the 2019 season.

The Panthers (6-0) came into the Fitzgerald Field House Saturday night on fire before hosting the Dukes (2-6) in the final match of the Pittsburgh-hosted Champyinz Invitational. The first win was a 3-0 victory to Big 10 foe Ohio State at PPG Paints Arena on Friday night, followed by another 3-0 rout of Green Bay on Saturday afternoon.

This might have seemed like an especially impressive performance to a casual observer, but it was just a routine day for Pitt this season. In their six games so far, the Panthers have yet to drop a single one of their 18 sets, sweeping every opponent. Those performances will likely give Pitt — No. 10 nationally in the AVCA coaches poll — a boost when next week’s rankings are released.

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said he attributes this success to the team’s intensive preparation.

“Our belief is that if we’re always training at a high level, we don’t need to find something new in the games,” Fisher said. “I think we’ve been doing that. It’s certainly not the goal to not drop a set, but it’s nice to be in a good groove.”

The Panthers started the match with their most dominant set of the season, cruising by 25-12. Pitt won the last three points of the set to jump out to a 1-0 lead.

The second set was a little closer, but Pitt remained in control throughout. About midway through the set, redshirt freshman setter Maddie Soboleski entered the game to get some more match experience. A few minutes later, sophomore middle blocker Sabrina Starks also subbed in to close out the set for the Panthers.

Junior outside hitter Kayla Lund emphasized how important depth was for the Panthers.

“Our depth really helped us out,” Lund said. “Girls being able to come off the bench cold and be able to deliver and play hard for us and get some points was really huge. We have a bunch of different lineups that work and get us wins, which is awesome as a team.”

An emphatic kill from junior Chinaza Ndee gave the Panthers a 25-15 second-set win.

The third set gave even more bench players the chance to get match experience. The Dukes won the first three points of the set, but the Panthers pulled off six straight right after and never let their foot off the pedal from there.

Redshirt junior Avery Perosa, sophomore Natalie Steibel and first-year Chiamaka Nwokolo all subbed in to make contributions in the third set. Nwokolo, making her collegiate debut, notched her first career kill off of a Soboleski assist to give the Panthers match point. A Steibel kill on the next play secured the victory for the Panthers.

“This is the deepest team we’ve had at a lot of positions,” Fisher said. “It’s nice to be able to put out different players and not really skip a beat. Especially for the younger players who haven’t played a lot, it certainly doesn’t hurt your confidence.”

The Panthers will face their toughest challenge of the season on Wednesday when they go up against the No. 9 Oregon Ducks (2-0) at home at the Field House. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

“[We’re going] back to the gym,” Lund said. “Playing at home is definitely gonna be an advantage for us. It’ll be a great atmosphere.”

Against Duquesne, senior middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk led the Panthers with eight kills and she believes the Panthers will be equal to the task.

“We’re really excited to play someone ranked,” Van Buskirk said. “We know it’s going to be a tough match. We’re gonna train really hard Monday and Tuesday, scout them really hard. We’re ready.”