Volleyball: Panthers suffer tough loss at Villanova

By Torie Wytiaz

The Pitt volleyball team took a weekend trip across the state to take on Villanova and lost to… The Pitt volleyball team took a weekend trip across the state to take on Villanova and lost to the Wildcats 3-1 on Friday night.

With the loss, Pitt fell to 9-14 overall and 4-4 in Big East play. The win gave Villanova (18-4, 6-1) its fifth consecutive victory.

“It was good to get a Big East win at home,” Wildcats head coach Josh Steinbach said. “It’s big for us to be 6-1 in the conference at this point.”

The Panthers won the second set of the match 25-20, and dropped the first, third and fourth sets with scores of 25-15, 25-16 and 25-18, respectively.

For Rens, the difference between the winning set and the losing sets was a degree of aggression and commitment to a focused game plan.

“In the second set, we executed out game plan well and really put pressure on Villanova,” Rens said. “In the sets where we were unsuccessful, we backed off a bit and strayed from those pressure points.”

Villanova was able to hold Pitt to just 41 kills, while the Wildcats recorded 56 in the match.

Key contributors to the Panthers’ offense were also held to minimal productivity, due in large part to Villanova’s strong serving.

“Villanova is a great serving team, and when our serve receive is slightly off, it affects our ability to distribute the ball to some of our successful hitters,” Rens said.

Among those with reduced numbers were the middle hitters, senior Imani Harper and junior Keisha Leggs, who collected 14 total kills.

“When our middle hitters cannot get the ball as often, it puts more pressure on the outside hitters,” Rens said. “Without offensive balance, the team suffers.”

Despite the loss, the Panthers were able to improve on theirdefense, as they had more digs than their opponents for the fourth consecutive match.

Sophomore Margy Acton, who recently set the Pitt record for most digs in a match, led the Panthers with 18 digs.

“Defensively, I was pleased with our performance as far as digging goes,” Rens said. “Blocking, however, was difficult as we had trouble tracking their hitters and controlling our transition game.”

The Wildcats did not exhibit the same problem as they won the blocking battle 9 to 3.

With an even record in conference play, the Panthers will look to favor the win column with two weekend matches against Syracuse and Marquette, two very different Big East teams.

“Syracuse is a safer, low-error team that plays strong team defense,” Rens said. “Marquette is more of an aggressive team that likes to play a physical match and keep the pace fast, but sometimes their ball control is suspect.”

The Panthers will face both opponents on the road in the final two matches of a four-contest away streak.

According to Rens, the “visiting” factor is only as important as Pitt team allows it to be.

“If we can keep our focus and composure in the away matches, then we have a good chance to be successful this weekend.”