Volleyball: Pitt suffers heart-breaker against USF, rebounds to beat Hoyas

By Torie Wytiaz

A tough loss can have lasting implications on a team. It might take a long time for the negative… A tough loss can have lasting implications for a team. It might take a long time for the negative emotions to subside so that players can move on to face the next opponent with confidence.

The Pitt volleyball team did not have that option this weekend.

After a 3-2 loss to Big East rival South Florida on Saturday, the Panthers (9-12, 4-2 Big East) had less than 24 hours to refocus and prepare for a match against another conference opponent, Georgetown.

The Panthers seemed to leave the South Florida defeat behind them as they secured a 3-1 victory over the Hoyas, in what head coach Toby Rens considers a sign of the team’s growing maturity.

“Losing to USF was heart-breaking,” Rens said. “It was like losing on a buzzer-beater shot in basketball, and such a loss would be easy to dwell on. I was extremely pleased with the team’s ability to turn it around and get a win against Georgetown.”

South Florida 3, Pitt 2

The Panther’s loss to USF was especially tough, given last season’s end.

“USF ended our season last year in the Big East,” senior middle hitter Imani Harper said. “We really wanted to destroy them, so the loss hurt a lot.”

Pitt won the first set 28-26 and the third set 25-23. The Bulls managed to take the second and fourth sets 25-21 and 28-26, respectively, before finishing the victory with a 16-14 final set score.

The “buzzer-beater” comparison comes from the Panthers’ leads in the fifth set.

Pitt began that set with a 6-1 lead and again held a five-point lead with a score of 12-7, but the Bulls were able to end the match after a 9-2 run.

In the match, senior outside hitter Amy Town, who matched her season-high total of 22 kills, led Pitt offensively.

While Town’s ability to score points often garners the most attention, Rens is quick to point out that her defensive play is indispensable.

“Most people see the kill figures that Amy puts up, which are impressive, but against USF, she also contributed 13 digs,” Rens said. “That defensive effort is important to generate the offense.”

Town has recorded her fourth double-double on the season.

Harper and junior Keisha Leggs also earned double-digit kills with 16 and 14, respectively.

Leggs also contributed eight blocks, although the Panthers were out-blocked as a team by South Florida 14-10.

“Blocking is such an important part of our game,” Rens said. “When we execute it well, it makes a difference in our offensive efficiency.”

Pitt 3, Georgetown 1

With no opportunity to practice between matches, the Panthers still responded to the blocking challenge and used the advantage to defeat Georgetown with set scores of 25-18, 25-12, 22-25 and 25-20.

“We made necessary adjustments to our left side blocking, and it really made a difference against Georgetown,” Harper said.

Harper had eight blocks whereas the Panthers finished the match with 14 total blocks compared to the Hoyas’ 10.

“Imani had a difficult defensive assignment,” Rens said. “She met the challenge well, and her blocks were a major part of our success.”

Another aspect of Pitt’s success came from the offensive balance and distribution obtained against Georgetown.

Town and Leggs each recorded 11 kills, as did senior Rachel Kalberer. Sophomore Jenn Katona chipped in with seven kills in the match.

Rens was particularly impressed with the play and leadership of Kalberer.

“Rachel was able to manage multiple roles,” Rens said. “She had her 11 kills, but she was also instrumental in communicating with the middle blockers and helping them with their timing. Having Rachel contribute like that really adds to the team’s balance.”

The Panthers will have more time to prepare for their next match, as they travel to play an experienced West Virginia team on Saturday.

“WVU is returning four starters, and they are coming off of a win against USF,” Rens said. “We will focus on offensive execution and our transition game in preparation for WVU’s balanced style of play.”

For Harper, the next match against the Mountaineers is a chance to move past a weekend of tough competition.

“The USF match is behind us, and focusing on it will not help with our future,” Harper said. “We have plenty of season left and so much room to grow.”