Preview | Pitt volleyball looks ready to reach new heights in 2023


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 on Dec. 3 2022.

By Matthew Scabilloni, Staff Writer

Pitt volleyball is coming off yet another historic season under head coach Dan Fisher, leading the Panthers to a second straight Final Four. Despite the heartbreaking loss in last season’s Final Four, this upcoming Panthers team might finally have what it takes to hoist the trophy at the end of the year.

The Panthers are returning key pieces from their 6-2 system that meant a lot to this past season’s Final Four run — graduate student Alexis Akeo and junior Rachel Fairbanks. But Fairbanks is more than a setter, as she also is the right side hitter when Akeo subs in. Fairbanks versatility proves just how valuable her return is to this Fisher-coached squad.

Pitt is also returning both of their starting outside hitters in junior Julianna Dalton and redshirt senior Valeria Vazquez Gomez. Similar to Fairbanks, Dalton is also multifaceted, as she will play the back row when Vazquez Gomez subs in. 

Along with the Panthers returning both of their starting outside hitters, they are also returning senior outside hitter Cat Flood, who can cause nightmares for the opponents when they see her at the service line. 

On the defensive side of things, the Panthers are returning one of Fisher’s most battle tested players in the history of the program —  graduate student Chiamaka Nwokolo. The graduate student is returning for her fourth year as a starter playing middle blocker for the Panthers. 

Nwokolo was part of the Panthers run in 2020 where they made it to the Regional Final for the first time in program history. She was also a part of both of the Panthers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances.

To further bulk up the strength of the Panthers defense, junior Emmy Kilka is back to take over the libero role after she vastly improved and became the starter late in the season last year.

Furthermore, on defense, the Panthers are returning sophomore defensive specialist Dillyn Griffin and sophomore middle blocker Rachel Jepsen. Both have shown tons of promise when on the floor and may see more time on the floor this season.  

Along with all of the talent returning to the Panthers, Fisher has a slew of talent coming to Pittsburgh via the transfer portal. Fisher knows that defense wins championships in volleyball and added three different defensive transfers for this season.

Fisher added Bre Kelley, a junior middle blocker from Florida. Kelley – regarded as one of the most talented middle blockers in the SEC last season — is vital for the Panthers success defensively this season. 

Along with Kelley, Fisher added two graduate students,defensive specialist Logan Mosley from Virginia Tech and middle blocker Emma Monks from Michigan State. Both will provide key roles for the Panthers on the defensive side.

In addition to the Panthers’ key returning players and intriguing transfer, the Panthers are bringing in their best first-year class in the history of the program. This Panthers recruiting class is ranked No. 8 in the country, according to

The Panthers’ 2023 recruiting class includes four different talented players from all across the country. Pitt’s recruiting class includes No.12 ranked outside hitter Torrey Stafford, No. 42 ranked outside hitter Blaire Bayless, No. 43 ranked right side Oliva Babcock and No. 66 setter Haiti Tautua’a.

These four talented players may not play much this next season, but expect to see these highly touted recruits play a lot more during the seasons thereafter.

The Panthers have some very exciting matches coming to Pittsburgh in the fall.

On Sept. 3 at 12 p.m. Pitt takes on Kentucky in the Petersen Events Center. The Wildcats made it to the Sweet Sixteen last season, and both teams are looking for a huge early season win.

Then, on Sept. 14 at 7p.m., Pitt takes on Oregon in the Fitzgerald Field House. The Ducks have been a dominant volleyball team for a while just like Pitt. Similar to the Kentucky game, both want a big early season win that will boost them for the rest of the year.

On Oct. 6th at 7p.m. Pitt takes on Georgia Tech in the Fitzgerald Field House. Both Pitt and Georgia Tech are contenders for the ACC Regular Season Champion, meaning there is a huge advantage in the ACC Regular Season Champion race for whomever wins this game.

Finally, on Nov. 18 with time TBD, Pitt takes on Louisville in the Petersen Events Center. Louisville won the season series last season two to one. The pair also met in the Final Four, where the Cardinals eliminated the Panthers in five sets. The Panthers are out for revenge in this pivotal ACC matchup that may end up deciding the Regular Season ACC Championship.