Undefeated Pitt volleyball wins Carolina Classic in sweep


TPN File Photo

With 14 team kills for Pitt and fifth-year right-side hitter and middle blocker Chinaza Ndee’s set-winning kill, the Panthers took the third set at the Carolina Classic at a score of 25-19.

By Brayden Tinney, For The Pitt News

No. 9 Pitt volleyball traveled to South Carolina over the weekend, opening its season at the Carolina Classic. The Panthers swept the event with three victories against No. 23 Rice, No. 18 Washington State and unranked South Carolina.

In its season-opener on Friday, Pitt held the lead against No. 23 Rice for the majority of the first set. A service ace by graduate student setter Kylee Levers clinched the set — a dominating Panthers performance that ended 25-14. The second set featured a back-and-forth fight where Pitt suffered seven attack errors — allowing Rice to come out on top with a 25-18 win. 

Fifth-year right-side hitter Chinaza Ndee led the way with 14 kills, including the set-winning point. The Panthers were victorious in the third set, 25-19. Rice won the fourth set 25-19, as Pitt allowed three consecutive attack errors followed by a flawed assist. Panther mistakes forced the match to its fifth and final set, tied 2-2. 

In the decisive set, both teams battled to a 14-14 tie. With a kill from Missouri transfer and senior outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh, Pitt took the set 16-14 and won its season opener, three sets to two. 

Graduate student outside hitter Kayla Lund led the Panthers in kills with 16, followed by Member-Meneh’s 14 and senior middle blocker Serena Gray’s 13. Levers and junior setter Lexis Akeo led Pitt in assists with 26 and 20, respectively. Senior middle blocker Sabrina Starks led Pitt in blocks with four and Levers led in aces with three. Junior libero and defensive specialist Ashley Browske finished with 12 digs and Levers with 14, behind Lund’s team-high 16 digs.

Pitt faced its second ranked opponent of the weekend on Saturday, No. 18 Washington State. In the first set, the Panthers allowed three consecutive kills in a row, followed by a blocked hit from Member-Meneh and an additional kill for the Cougars. They found themselves in a 25-22 hole too deep to dig out of. Pitt dropped its first set against Washington State, 25-18. 

The second set was closer, but 15 kills from the Panthers secured a win, 25-20. Senior outside hitter Jordan Lockwood dominated the third set with six kills, allowing the Panthers to win 25-22 with only one set win left to take the game. Pitt wrapped up the game with a 3-1 victory in the fourth set with two game-winning, consecutive kills from Ndee and sophomore outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez. 

Akeo led the Panthers with 27 assists, and Starks led with six blocks. Lund and Vasquez Gomez led the game with 10 digs each and Browske finished with eight. Lund also led the game in kills with 13, followed by Ndee with 12 kills and Gray with nine. 

In its final game, Pitt swept the host, the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Panthers solidified a first set lead with two kills from Jordan Lockwood, bringing the score to 19-15. The Gamecocks earned only one more point in the set — from there on Pitt dominated to take the set, 25-16. 

The beginning of the second set featured an ace from South Carolina first-year outside hitter Lauren McCutcheon. But Pitt struck back quickly with three consecutive kills from Lund, Vasquez Gomez and Starks — giving them a 7-4 lead. The Gamecocks brought the game back to a 9-9 tie, but the Panthers halted their momentum with a kill by Lund. Pitt controlled the latter half of the set and took it by a final score of 25-16. 

A back-and-forth affair began in the third set, as the Gamecocks attempted to wear out Pitt. Yet, with the score at 24-23, Ndee gave Pitt a game-winning kill in the third set that solidified a 3-0 sweep of the match and tournament. 

Akeo and Levers led the way for Pitt in assists and aces, combining for five aces and 36 assists in the contest. Gray led Pitt in blocks with seven, Ndee followed with six and Starks with five. Ndee, Gray and Lund led the game with nine kills each. Vazquez Gomez had five kills and nine digs against the Gamecocks. Along with her nine kills, Lund led the game with 11 digs. 

In addition to notching three strong victories, head coach Dan Fisher hit a career milestone — his 200th win with the Panthers. 

Fisher and the Panthers look to continue their dominance in Knoxville on Saturday against No. 10 Baylor and unranked Tennessee this coming weekend. Pitt will take on the Bears at 4 p.m. Saturday.