Panthers sweep West Virginia in first volleyball Backyard Brawl since 2011


Pamela Smith | Staff Photographer

The No. 19 Pitt volleyball team managed to remain steady during a dominant 3-0 sweep of rival West Virginia. The Panthers have not played a “Backyard Brawl” against the Mountaineers since 2011, and won with scores of 25-8, 25-12 and 25-15, respectively.

By Henry Jackson, Staff Writer

In a month often defined by, well, madness, No. 19 Pitt managed to remain steady during a dominant 3-0 sweep of rival West Virginia.

Considering the Panthers have not played a “Backyard Brawl” against the Mountaineers since 2011, the match turned out surprisingly lopsided. West Virginia, overrun by Pitt’s overpowering squad from the outset, lost by scores of 25-8, 25-12 and 25-15, respectively.

The win left senior right-side hitter Chinaza Ndee upbeat about her team’s performance.

“It feels good,” Ndee said. “We haven’t ever really had a Backyard Brawl since I’ve been here, so it was cool to do that in our own way. We were really excited going in, and we stayed steady the whole game. It was competitive but we just had a good vibe the entire time and it was really fun to play.”

Pitt’s win Wednesday night broke a two-game losing streak against the Mountaineers, bringing the program’s overall record against West Virginia to 40-2. But before the previous two losses, the Panthers boasted a 39-game win streak in the Backyard Brawl series, the longest against a single opponent in program history.

The numbers paint a picture of just how completely dominantly Pitt performed from start to finish. The Panthers held the advantage in every facet of the match, limiting West Virginia to an abysmal .012 hitting percentage while also leading 39-23 in kills, 10-0 in service aces and 13-4 in blocks.

Together, senior outside hitter Kayla Lund and Ndee combined for an astounding 23 kills while coincidentally sharing a .688 hitting percentage. Sophomore setter Lexis Akeo and redshirt senior setter Kylee Levers further contributed to the attack with a combined 32 assists, while 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker Sabrina Starks held down the defensive end with seven blocks.

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher appeared almost in shock from his team’s overwhelming performance.

“It’s always nice to play well,” Fisher said. “I think since most of their season was in the fall we benefited from being a little more sharp than they probably were. I was pleased to see a balanced attack, and then seeing a lot of players contributing.”

Pitt set the tone early in the first set, utilizing an 11-0 run to build up a 17-5 lead. The reeling Mountaineers never recovered, even as six vicious kills from Lund further sank any chances of West Virginia crawling back.

The second set proceeded much as the first, with the Panthers stringing together a series of lengthy runs to carry the stanza comfortably. A series of West Virginia errors late in the set also prevented the Mountaineers from building any momentum.

By the third set, it became clear that Pitt held a mental edge over their opponent.

“What we wanted to do was play to our standard, play to our level and really take care of our end of the court and not worry so much about what they were doing,” Lund said. “Of course we still wanted to execute defensively, but more so worrying about what we’re doing and how we can get better.”

The third set proved the closest of the entire match. West Virginia managed to tie the score at six early on, but once again a pair of crucial errors stymied any momentum. The Panthers utilized those errors en route to an 11-7 lead, and never turned back as they coasted to their 3-0 win.

Pitt’s impressive victory over West Virginia serves as a reflection of just how dominant the Panthers have been this spring. Despite earning a somewhat mediocre 4-4 record during the fall portion of the season, Pitt has proven themselves as a formidable force in the ACC by winning eight straight since February, bringing the team’s overall record to 12-4.

Fisher attributes his player’s success to their work ethic, along with their responsibility in following COVID-19 precautions. 

“We’ve just been plugging away, and really working on our game,” Fisher said. “We’ve been fortunate to not have been shut down very often due to COVID-19 reasons, so we’ve been able to train consistently.”

The Panthers will not rest on their laurels as they prepare for a more difficult test this Friday at 5 p.m. against No. 25 Florida State.

“We know where we stand, but we take it more like an everyday ‘are we getting better’ mentality,” Ndee said. “I think that’s going to help us in the long run because it’s all about internal focus and self-motivation rather than focusing on external accomplishments.”