Fairbanks, Buzzerio headline Golden State influence on Pitt volleyball


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Graduate student Courtney Buzzerio (8) hits the ball during Pitt volleyball’s match against Louisville on Sunday.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

Up one point late in the fifth set against the second-best team in the country, Pitt right side hitter Courtney Buzzerio looked unfazed. She’d done everything in her power to get the Panthers to this point of the game, leading the match in kills with 19, including three in the abbreviated fifth set.
Everyone in the Fitzgerald Field House knew who the ball was going to with the game on the line — including the Louisville defense — and there was nothing they could do to stop her.
With the Panthers up 12-11, sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks lofted the ball to Buzzerio from just beyond the attack line. The right side hitter didn’t hesitate for a second, smashing the ball across the court, well out of reach from the Cardinals’ back line.
The next point Fairbanks did the exact same thing, and this time Buzzerio, with sheer force, spiked one straight through the Cardinal block.
At match point senior libero Ashley Browske perfectly received the Louisville serve, sending the ball toward the net. Fairbanks settled under it and set it high to — who else — Buzzerio, who completed the upset with perhaps her most emphatic, powerful kill of the day.
Buzzerio, Fairbanks and graduate student outside hitter Serena Gray make up the trio of California natives who’ve led the Panthers to their stellar start in 2022. Their impact on the team was never more noticeable than it was against Louisville, with Buzzerio and Gray leading the team with 22 and 15 kills respectively along with five block assists apiece. Fairbanks also put together one of her best performances of the season, tallying 37 assists, 10 digs and eight kills — nearly scoring her second triple-double of the season.
For head coach Dan Fisher, a California native himself, recruiting out west is very intentional. Along with Texas, California is considered a hotbed of high-school volleyball recruiting. According to Fisher, a number of those players have a desire to move east for their education.
“I think a lot of west coast kids, if you divide them up, you can see that there’s two types,” Fisher said. “There’s one that wants to stay close to home and then there’s the other type that’s willing to go away, and I think a lot of them think, ‘Go east coast.’ They’re not thinking ‘Hey, I want to go to the Midwest necessarily’ … they have this idea of going to an east coast school.”
Some of Fisher’s best recruits throughout his tenure came from California, including former first team All-American outside hitter Kayla Lund. This year’s team features four players from the Golden State, as well as Utah, Colorado and Hawaii.
For Buzzerio, Pitt certainly wasn’t her first choice out of high school, and she spent her first four years of college playing at Iowa. After being the star of a 6-24 Iowa team last season, Buzzerio decided that it was in her best interest to look elsewhere for her fifth year.
“My big things were team success, making the tournament, going deeper into the tournament and a stable culture, environment and coaching staff,” Buzzerio said. “Both were my big points and so [Pitt] obviously hit all those marks.”
Fisher said Buzzerio was extensive in her research, making sure that Pitt checked every box before commiting. Some of her main priorities were academics, NCAA tournament aspirations and development into a professional player.
“She’s not emotional, she’s not going to make a rash decision, so she really did her homework on us,” Fisher said.
So far, it’s looked like the right decision for both Buzzerio and Pitt.
The team is off to a 20-2 start to the season and Buzzerio currently leads the Panthers in kills with 288 while also racking up three ACC player of the week awards. Lund is the only other Panther to win the award three times in a single season back in 2018.
For the Panthers, Buzzerio’s transfer came at the perfect time. After losing Lund and former All-Americans Chinaza Ndee and Leketor Member-Meneh, they desperately needed a replacement weapon on the outside, and hoped that Buzzerio would be their answer.
According to Buzzerio, the former players’ legacy is still felt in the locker room, and she was aware of the pressure that came with filling their shoes. Still, she recognizes that this year’s team is completely different and requires new leadership.
“I definitely felt that early on [Pitt] was recruiting me to fill [Ndee’s] spot,” Buzzerio said. “In the beginning, like preseason, I wanted to be able to fill that role, but now I think me and [Ndee] are very different in many different ways … We’re building something different — like we have the same goals, but we’re just all new and this is our team this year.”
While Buzzerio headlines a litany of new faces in and around the team this season, Fairbanks had a much different route to Pittsburgh. She committed to the Panthers in her sophomore year of high school and, in her first year, saw a meteoric rise to prominence, playing a massive role in the Panthers’ Final Four run last season.
Fairbanks’ play style is eye-catching — while listed as a setter, she does a little bit of everything, playing essentially every rotation and often flying above the net with hitter-like athleticism. She said playing everywhere on the floor is what she’s always known.
“Growing up I played a ton of different sports, so in every sport I was just playing, messing around,” Fairbanks said. “But then when I started playing volleyball, I’ve always ran a six-two so I would set in the back row and hit in the front row, and I’ve done that all throughout club as well.”
Fisher said having a player like Fairbanks who does a bit of everything can be intimidating to opponents.
“I think all around good players are scary,” Fisher said. “Because when you’re good at everything, you keep getting a little bit better at everything, it’s a pretty nice package.”
Against Purdue in the Elite Eight last year, Fairbanks put on a show, recording 10 kills, 28 assists and eight digs. After battling injuries for most of last season, she burst onto the scene in the team’s last regular season game against Louisville and hasn’t looked back since.
While the faces in the Pitt locker room are different, and not the ones fans have grown accustomed to seeing the past few years, make no mistake — the team’s goal hasn’t changed. Optimism is as high as it’s ever been within the program thanks to an influx of new talent.
“Oh yeah, we definitely have the highest standards,” Fairbanks said. “We lost those three strong players, but the players currently here have developed, and we got two amazing freshman transfers … Our standard’s just as high as it was last year.”

Sophomore Rachel Fairbanks (10) serves the ball during Pitt volleyball’s match against American University on Sept. 9. (Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer)