Pitt volleyball begins ACC with wins against UNC and NC State

The+Panthers+swept+both+games+they+played+this+weekend+in+North+Carolina%2C+knocking+off+the+UNC+Tar+Heels+in+Chapel+Hill+and+the+NC+State+Wolfpack+in+Raleigh+to+continue+their+undefeated+start+to+the+season.

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The Panthers swept both games they played this weekend in North Carolina, knocking off the UNC Tar Heels in Chapel Hill and the NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh to continue their undefeated start to the season.

By Richie Smiechowski, Staff Writer

No. 4 Pitt volleyball traveled down to North Carolina this weekend to take on UNC and NC State to kick off their ACC schedule.

The Panthers (12-0, 2-0 ACC) swept both games they played, knocking off the Tar Heels (11-1, 0-1 ACC) in Chapel Hill and the Wolfpack (7-6, 1-1 ACC) in Raleigh to continue their undefeated start to the season.

Friday’s bout against UNC featured a battle of undefeated teams at Carmichael Arena. The Tar Heels have looked strong early on in the season. They boasted a perfect 11-0 record and were on the verge of a top-25 ranking coming into their first ACC matchup against Pitt.

Neither team appeared to have an edge early in the first set. A 5-0 run from the Panthers was exactly what they needed to swing the momentum in their favor. That run put the Panthers up 17-10, and they eventually cruised to victory in the first frame 25-17.

Timely blocks allowed the Panthers to neutralize the UNC attack in the first frame, holding them to a .138 hitting percentage. Fifth-year right side hitter Chinaza Ndee led the way for the Panthers with five kills.

UNC came out of the gate strong in the second frame, scoring the first three points of the set. However, they were unable to keep the momentum and squandered their early lead seven points later. Neither team gave an inch until Pitt went on yet another five-point swing to go up 22-17. They controlled the set from there, winning 25-20. Timely hitting ended up being the difference maker for the Panthers despite a statistically even set.

The third set was one the Panthers would rather forget. They fell behind 6-0, and the early gap never seemed to narrow as the set went on — with UNC relentless in their attack. A seven-point swing for the Tar Heels late in the set, anchored by four attack errors in a row from the Panthers, put UNC up a whopping 21-6 before closing the game out 25-9. The Panther defense struggled mightily in the frame, allowing UNC a .500 hitting percentage while the Tar Heels held Pitt to a horrific -.143 hit percentage.

Luckily for the Panthers, they were able to bounce back with authority, jumping out to a 3-0 lead to begin the set. Both teams exchanged momentum swings in the set, but a devastating 5-0 run from the Panthers midway through the set propelled them to a 13-6 lead. The Tar Heels were unable to catch up at any point over the rest of the game, and the Panthers took the fourth and final set 25-21 for their first ACC win of the season.

While the Panthers showed signs of sloppiness in a statistically underwhelming performance for them, they made up for it with grit — still winning comfortably 3-1. Senior outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh recorded her second double-double in as many games, and senior middle blocker Serena Gray showed her dominance at the net with 11 kills and six blocks. 

Game two of the weekend against NC State was much closer than the final scoreline showed. Both teams were riding high off their first ACC wins, yet also showed significant struggles out of the gate.

The first set was a wild one — a back and forth affair that featured six lead changes and 15 separate ties. Errors on both sides contributed to the erratic scoring, with the teams combining for 11 attack errors and nine service errors in the first set alone. 

When all the dust settled on the hectic first frame, the Panthers had just edged out the Wolfpack 25-23 behind a clutch kill from Gray to close the set. While it was an ugly first set on attack for the Panthers, they still managed to hold NC State to .185 hitting on defense. 

Both teams were able to shake off their initial sluggishness, with neither side willing to give an inch. The Wolfpack managed to hold a slight advantage for much of the second frame, but a four-point swing in Pitt’s favor brought the Panthers back in the game. 

With the second set tied 20-20, the Panthers turned up the heat and finished the frame with confidence, rapping off five straight points and closing the set 25-20 to put them up by two sets. 

The third and final frame ended up being the cleanest one for the Panthers, who recorded their highest hit percentage of the match at .323. Consistent attack and blocking allowed Pitt to take the lead early and never relinquish it. 

After going on a 10-2 run to put them up 24-14, the Panthers began to allow NC State back into the game — giving up four points in a row. The comeback was short-lived, however, and Ndee put the finishing touches on the sweep with a hard spike kill — giving the Panthers a 25-18 win in the final set. 

Ndee had yet another stand-out performance in the 3-0 win, tallying 12 kills and three blocks for the Panthers. Graduate student Kulee Levers also recorded 18 assists, while Member-Meneh notably scored her 1,000th collegiate kill. 

The Panthers will look to carry the momentum from their two wins in the heart of ACC country into their first home conference match against UVA at Fitzgerald Field House. The game will start at 8 p.m. and will be televised on the ACC Network. 

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