No. 2 Pitt sweeps No. 7 BYU in record-breaking fashion, advances to third consecutive Sweet 16


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Redshirt junior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez (2) celebrates after Pitt’s win against BYU in the second round of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament in the Petersen Events Center Saturday night.

By Richie Smiechowski, Assistant Sports Editor

The Panthers’ success in the NCAA tournament last year was all about team records, most notably breaking their 2020 record for the longest postseason run in program history in which they reached the Final Four. 

On Saturday night, in their second round matchup against No. 7 BYU, individual records were the focus, with graduate student right side hitter Courtney Buzzerio and sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks etching their names into Pitt postseason folklore. 

Behind record-setting performances, the Panthers followed up their Friday night sweep against Colgate with another dominant three set victory on Saturday night against No. 7 BYU at the Petersen Events Center. With the win, the Panthers will move on to Sweet 16 play for the third consecutive year. 

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher was very pleased with his team’s performance, crediting the staff’s game plan and the players’ execution as the reasons behind their success.

“Our team was the most focused I’ve seen them in a long time,” Fisher said. “My staff did a good job, we put together a good service plan, I liked our scouting on them. I felt like we put them in good positions but gosh, they really had to execute.”

Both defenses started off strong in the first set, resulting in long rallies and low hitting percentages for the first few points. While the two sides stayed locked, their offenses slowly started gaining momentum and halfway through the frame, both teams were hitting over .300.

Tied at 10, the Panthers got their much-needed spark from graduate student middle blocker Serena Gray. She strung together back-to-back kills and put the Panthers up two points. Gray had a fantastic first set, notching four timely kills and a block.

The two sides traded the next few points, but a four point swing from Pitt signaled the beginning of the end for BYU in the first. The Cougars never got within less than three points of their opponents and after a few long rallies, the Panthers cruised down the stretch to a 25-21 first set victory. 

Along with Gray, Fairbanks filled up the scorebook in the first set with four kills, nine assists, and a block. Buzzerio had a relatively quiet first frame for the Panthers offensively but played great defense late in the set alongside sophomore libero Emmy Klika. 

As opposed to the rapid-fire back-and-forth first set, the second frame started off with a pair of long scoring runs, one from each team. Down 2-1, the Panthers ripped off a remarkable six-point run punctuated by two Cougar errors and two kills from Buzzerio.

Instead of letting the Panthers run away with the set before it even started, BYU surged back on the scoreboard. The Cougars took the air out of the Petersen Events Center, going on a five point run thanks to four consecutive errors from Pitt and tying the match at seven. 

From there, the Panthers held a steady lead, eventually extending their advantage by five points midway through the frame. Up 16-11, they again became their own worst enemy, committing three consecutive errors and bringing the Cougars back within two. 

Despite several sloppy runs throughout the set, the Panthers managed to make good swings when it mattered most and pulled away as soon as BYU began smelling a comeback. Pitt again led by five late in the set, 22-17.

This time the Cougars became the aggressors, quickly chipping away at the Panthers’ lead and refusing to relinquish the set. They put together a crucial four point swing, cutting Pitt’s lead to just 23-22. But as soon as they got the momentum, the Cougars lost it with one swing on an ill-timed service error that gave Pitt their first set point. The next point, junior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez connected cleanly with one on the left side of the net, easily firing the ball past the Cougars front line and giving Pitt the nervy 25-23 second set victory. 

Although his team committed a plethora of errors in the second, Fisher was still happy with the way the Panthers responded to their mistakes and managed to overcome them. 

“We just lost some patience but I was actually really proud of us, I don’t know how we won that with ten attacking errors,” Fisher said. “We’re not afraid to get blocked, you know we want to be aggressive.”

Buzzerio was anything but quiet for the Panthers in the second, notching an impressive eight kills while Fairbanks added another five to her total. Despite the positives, the Panthers still committed ten errors in the second, nearly costing them the set. 

Last night, Buzzerio took more of a backseat role behind Vazquez Gomez’s hot hand. Tonight, she was the aggressor in attack and gave credit to the passing as a major reason for her success. 

“Obviously Valeria had a really good night last night, so they saw that,” Buzzerio said. “Just with Rachel setting the offense, the middles get going and things open up. I mean, there’s some lucky kills where balls just fall but I think it’s just how aggressive we were to start the match and keep going.”

For as close as the first two sets were at some points, the third set was a masterclass in dominance from the Panthers. They quickly opened up a 7-2 lead, thanks to a three- and four-point swing, and only got more dominant, eventually extending their lead to ten midway through the set. 

Down the stretch, the Cougars gained a bit of life, but by then the deficit was too much for them to overcome. Buzzerio fittingly made the game’s final swing, rocketing one past the BYU defense for her unbelievable eleven-kill frame, giving the Panthers the 25-18 third set victory. 

Buzzerio’s 23 kills set a program-high in NCAA tournament play, and Fairbanks put together a massive performance, recording Pitt’s first ever triple-double in tournament history with 10 kills, 28 assists and 13 digs. 

Pitt’s passing game is one of their strong points, and Saturday’s performance reinforced that. According to Fairbanks, the formation they run helps a lot with creating chances and giving the hitters more options.

“I think the six-two definitely helps [with passing],” Fairbanks said. “Just me and Lexis both setting and always having three options. So yeah, in short, there’s just more options for our hitters.”

As a team, the Panthers hit .299 and played strong defense despite their 18 attack errors. They’ll look to minimize some of those mistakes against strong competition in the coming rounds. 

With the sweep, Pitt will play No. 3 Florida in the round of sixteen in Madison, Wisconsin. The game is on Dec. 8 and gametime is TBD.