Pitt volleyball takes two of three games at Panther Invitational, drops last game to upstart Towson


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt players celebrate during Friday’s game against American University at the Fitzgerald Field House.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt volleyball finally came back to Oakland Friday after six consecutive road games to start their season. Hosting the Panther Invitational, Pitt (7-2, 0-0 ACC) took two of three games from their opponents, but were upset by Towson (10-0, 0-0 CAA) for their second loss of the season. The Tigers went on to sweep the invitational, beating fellow guests American (6-3, 0-0 Patriot) and Bowling Green (4-5, 0-0 MAC).

The Panthers, riding high off their dominating performance at the BYU invitational last week, made it clear that they were the stronger team in their home opener against American. Back at Fitzgerald Field House for the first time since knocking off Purdue in last year’s regional final, Pitt knocked off the Eagles in straight sets, handing them their first loss of the season.

Despite a relatively quiet .262 hitting percentage offensively, the Panther defense was the main reason for their lopsided victory. They held American to a low -.101 hitting percentage — Pitt’s lowest allowed since 2016. Pitt made a statement in the first set against the Eagles, going on a 9-0 tear early in the frame behind four errors from the American attack. Graduate student right side hitter Courtney Buzzerio got off to a hot start, notching four kills on four attacks in a 25-9 first frame rout.

The match’s second set flowed similarly to the first, with the Panthers dominating from the beginning and never looking back. They once again almost held the Eagles to single-digit points, this time coming away with a 25-11 set victory.

Offensively, the Panthers had a sloppy third and final set. They notched seven total for the frame, but once again their defense was stellar, holding the Eagles to a -.151 hitting percentage. They finished off the first-game sweep decisively, winning 25-15.

Buzzerio led the Panthers with 12 kills on .588 hitting in the first game, notching career kill No. 1,000 in the process. First-year middle blocker Rachel Jepsen showed off her defensive abilities, logging six blocks in the match.

Just a few hours later, the Panthers continued their run of form, knocking off Bowling Green in straight sets for their second victory of the day. Once again the defense was strong, holding the Falcons to a low .130 hitting percentage, but the Panthers made sure to showcase their offensive prowess too with a well-balanced attacking performance.

Once again, the Panthers came out strong, using several runs to jump out ahead by double digits. Junior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez led the Panthers offensively, notching five kills in the frame. Down 11, the Falcons attempted a late comeback but fell short, giving the Panthers a 25-17 first set victory.  

Pitt logged its most efficient offensive performance of the day in the second set, logging a .385 hitting percentage on the back of four kills by graduate student middle blocker Serena Gray. The two sides started level in the second, but the Panthers pulled away midway through the set. Once again, Bowling Green managed to go point for point with Pitt late in the second, but weren’t able to make up the deficit, eventually falling 25-16.

The Falcons played their cleanest set of the match in the fourth, but the Panther attack was just too much for them to overcome. Thanks to three blocks from fifth-year middle blocker Sabrina Starks and four more kills from Vazquez Gomez, the Panthers pulled away late and completed the sweep with a 25-19 victory.

The final game of the Panther Challenge saw Pitt face off against undefeated Towson. Behind an incredible performance at the net, Towson improbably knocked off the Panthers in four sets for their first win against a ranked opponent in program history.

Consistency and strong defense were the defining factors for the Tigers on Saturday — they out-blocked the Panthers 16-3 and hit a respectable .275 for the match against the Pitt defense. Buzzerio logged yet another dominant performance on the right side with a team-high 13 kills, but the rest of the attack struggled to find their footing.

Pitt dropped the first set on an abysmal attacking performance. Towson was dominant at the net with five blocks — but the real story came from Pitt’s 12 errors in the first. The Tigers rode the momentum of an 8-0 run early to run away with an easy first frame victory, winning 25-12.

The Panthers managed to find their footing in the second set, playing cleaner volleyball, but still they couldn’t find a way to pull away from the Tigers. Towson managed to take a four-point lead early thanks to consecutive aces from first year setter Sarah Jordan, but the Panthers came roaring back, tying the contest at 16.

The two sides ended up knotted again late in the set at 22, but the Towson attack came alive, winning three of the set’s final four points to take the set 25-23. While not nearly as bad as the first set, the Panthers still struggled with attacking and errors, along with tallying just two blocks through the first two frames.

Finally, after dropping two frames, the Panthers offense came alive in the third set, overpowering the otherwise dominant Towson front line with a nearly perfect performance. Pitt managed to hit .600 with 13 kills and just one error while the defense held Towson to a .025 attacking percentage.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, their momentum from the third set was met with an equally impressive rebound from the Tigers in the fourth. The two sides went back and forth with Towson constantly maintaining a slight advantage. Up two, the Tigers put together a five-point run late in the fourth set, ultimately burying the panthers. Fittingly, the visitors finished off their upset victory on a block, claiming the win in the fourth set 25-18.

Pitt will look to rebound from their second loss of the year at home against Tennessee on Sept. 16. The game will start at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on ACCNX.