Volleyball: Panthers pick up two wins over the weekend

By Torie Wytiaz

Pitt needed a spark to turn around its pair of most recent games in New Jersey.

Down 2-1 in… Pitt needed a spark to turn around its pair of most recent games in New Jersey.

Down 2-1 in the match and 12-7 in the set against Seton Hall this weekend, head coach Toby Rens gathered his team together. It was time for a leader to step up, and senior Imani Harper provided the spark that Rens was looking for.“

Imani Harper made an outstanding defensive play which showed a lot of heart,” Rens said of Harper’s diving effort for a ball.

“From that point on, we showed great poise in the match.”

That effort and poise led to a successful end to a four-match road trip.

Rutgers and Seton Hall, separated by a 30-minute drive, proved to be successful locations for the Panthers as they improved to 8-11 overall and 3-1 in the Big East.

After a Friday night 3-0 victory over Rutgers (7-9, 0-3 Big East), the Panthers travelled from Newark, N.J., to South Orange, N.J., where they defeated the Seton Hall Pirates 3-2 (7-12, 2-2) on Sunday afternoon.

Pitt 3, Rutgers 0

In their second straight-set victory of the year, the Panthers defeated the Scarlet Knights with set scores of 25-21, 25-21 and 25-8.

Seniors Harper and Amy Town led the Panthers’ offense and ended the match with 13 kills each, while junior Kiesha Leggs added seven kills, five coming in the second set.

The first two sets of the match proved to be a challenge for the Panthers, with six lead changes in the first set and an early Pitt deficit in the second.

Yet, after Pitt secured the second set lead at a score of 14-13, the rest of the match went the Panthers’ way as they dominated Rutgers in the final set.

“I was pleased with our ability to sustain a high level of volleyball in the match,” Rens said. “We did not give Rutgers a chance to gain control, especially in the third set.”

In that final set, Town accounted for six of Pitt’s 14 kills and added three more points with three aces.

Pitt’s serving, as an aspect of the game addressed in practices leading up to the Rutgers match, proved to be an asset throughout the contest against Rutgers as the Panthers recorded five aces.

“We have been working on serving in practice,” Rens said. “It was strong against Rutgers and helped add another dimension to our game.”

Defensively, the Panthers were characteristically strong as sophomore Margy Acton recorded a match-high 12 digs, while senior Melanie Feldman finished the three-set match with eight digs.

Pitt 3, Seton Hall 2

Just days before Pitt faced Seton Hall in a conference match, Pirate outside hitter Sarah Osmun was named the Big East Player of the Week after earning the most kills in school history.

Osmun added to that total with a match-high 21 kills, but the Panthers left a highly competitive match victorious with set scores of 25-23, 18-25, 20-25, 25-19 and 19-17.

The Panthers were able to defeat a Seton Hall team still reveling in an impressive conference victory.

“Seton Hall had been playing exceptionally well,” Rens said. “They had just beaten Louisville in a 3-2 match after losing a tough match to No. 25 Cincinnati.”

The Pirates jumped ahead with a 2-1 lead in the fourth set, but could not close the match and allowed the Panthers to put together a 10-4 run following the timeout and Harper’s stellar defensive play.

In the fifth and final set of the match, the Panthers battled through 11 ties and earned a hard-fought match victory.

“Seton Hall makes you compete for every point,” Rens said. “We may not have played our best match, but we played well enough at critical points in the match to win.”

The Panthers had four players contribute double-digit figures in kills, as Harper led the team with 19 and Town, Leggs and Rachel Kalberer added 15, 10 and 14 respectively.

Acton’s defensive presence carried over from the Rutgers match as she came up with 24 of Pitt’s 84 digs.

Rens said the two matches presented their own challenges to the Panthers.

“Rutgers and Seton Hall have different styles of play,” Rens said. “Rutgers is more deliberate in their offense whereas Seton Hall will try to push the tempo.”

But the Panthers seemed to take Leggs’ perspective on preparing for two distinctly different teams.

“It doesn’t matter who the team is,” Leggs said. “We can beat them.”

The Panthers, off to a solid start in Big East play, will return home with confidence to face the USF Bulldogs on Saturday.