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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

No. 7 Pitt volleyball reverse sweeps No. 4 Louisville in front of record setting crowd

Redshirt+senior+outside+hitter+Valeria+Vazquez+Gomez+%282%29+spikes+the+ball+during+Saturday+afternoons+match+against+Louisville+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer
Redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez (2) spikes the ball during Saturday afternoon’s match against Louisville at the Petersen Events Center.

No. 7 Pitt volleyball (23-4, 14-2 ACC) kept its ACC regular season championship and top-four seed in the NCAA tournament hopes alive as the Panthers defeated No. 4 Louisville (23-4, 14-3 ACC) in an epic reverse sweep in front of a record-setting crowd.

Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks loved playing  on the big stage and appreciated seeing all the Panther fans, but knew she had to lock in for game time. In front of the massive crowd, Fairbanks absolutely locked in and put on a show with a career-high 58 assists.

“When I first walk out, I take a moment to look around and appreciate our fans and the environment, ” Fairbanks said. ”Once warmups start you just gotta lock in and focus on your side of the net.”

First-year outside hitter Torrey Stafford also showed the crowd she’s not afraid of the moment by getting four kills and hitting .500 early on. While Stafford dominated, the two teams still went back-and-forth before the media timeout. Louisville had a two point edge 15-13.

Pitt players celebrate after a point during Saturday afternoon’s match against Louisville at the Petersen Events Center. (Bronco York | Staff Photographer)

Louisville used the media timeout to their advantage, going on a quick 2-0 run causing Pitt head coach Dan Fisher to use his first timeout with Louisville leading 17-13. 

Off the Fisher timeout, the Panthers still struggled against the Cardinals senior outside hitter Anna DeBeer. The senior had eight kills with a hitting percentage of .800, causing Fisher to use his second timeout with the Cardinals leading 21-15.

With Fisher using all of his timeouts, the Panthers and Cardinals went back-and forth, which worked out for DeBeer and the Cardinals who ultimately won the first set 25-19, taking a 1-0 lead in the match.

In the first set, the Cardinals hit .462 against the Panthers, who are second in the nation in allowed hitting percentage. 

After the Cardinals set one victory, the Panthers came out hot, taking an early 7-2 lead with senior outside hitter and serving specialist Cat Flood at the line. But the Cardinals started to claw back with their setter/serving specialist graduate student Brigitta Petrenko making it a narrow 8-7 Panther lead.

Once the Panthers stopped Petrenko at the service line, Pitt caused the Cardinals to make multiple hitting errors and first-year right side hitter Olivia Babcock added two kills of her own, giving Pitt a 15-11 advantage.

The Cardinals and Panthers did not have a single run longer than a pont after 15-11. Pitt kept itself in this back-and-forth set two by winning all the long rallies. Strong back row defense led by junior libero Emmy Klika caused another Cardinals timeout with the Panthers leading 21-17.

The teams then went back-and-forth some more causing a Cardinals timeout with Pitt leading 23-19. After the second Cardinals timeout, the Panthers struggled to close the set out. Fisher called two timeouts, but neither of them worked and the Panthers lost all three of their set points. The Cardinals took advantage of these struggles by winning their only set point and defeating the Panthers 26-24 in set two.

In set two, the Cardinals hit .371 and the Panthers hit a lowly .186 and only had two blocks. 

After the brutal set two loss, the Panthers needed a reverse sweep to win the top-ten match. Pitt and Louisville went back-and-forth. Fisher, frustrated by the back-and-forth, called an early timeout with the Cardinals leading 10-9.

Despite the early timeout, the teams did not change the path they were on. The Panthers and Cardinals went back-and-forth all the way to 22-22. On the 22-22 point, redshirt senior Valeria Vazquez Gomez earned a big time kill, causing a Louisville timeout.

To close out the the third set, Stafford let the record crowd know they couldn’t leave just yet by adding a clutch kill at the 25-24 point. The Panthers defense then closed the set out by causing DeBeer to hit an error, helping Pitt win set three 26-24 and keeping the reverse sweep hope alive. 

The Panthers, in dire need to send it to five sets, started on a mission to accomplish that goal. At first, the record crowd saw the teams go back-and-forth until the 10-10 point. But the Panthers went on a streak because of their defense, forcing two straight Cardinals attacking errors and a Louisville timeout at 13-10.

After the Cardinals timeout, Pitt and Louisville did nothing different for the Panthers fans. The two teams went back-and-forth all the way to the 22-19 point, causing a Cardinals timeout.

The Cardinals timeout proved effective this time around, as Louisville went on a 2-0 run causing a Panthers timeout at 22-21. Not letting the Cardinals out do them, the Panthers went on a 3-0 run to close the set out and bring it to  set five with a chance to complete the second reverse sweep of the season against a top ten team.

In overtime, the teams’ became knotted up at 4-4 but DeBeer started to take over and had three-straight kills, causing a Fisher timeout with Louisville leading 7-4.

Fairbanks got to the service line with the score of 10-6, the Panthers went 4-0 run to knot the game up at 10. 

Once the Panthers knotted up the game, it became obvious that the game would come down to the wire. The Cardinals and Panthers went at each other with huge kills and digs from both sides, with Louisville taking a 14-13 lead.. 

The Louisville lead was then quickly taken away by a kill from Stafford, who had a career-high 21 kills, and a DeBeer hitting error on her third attempt.This gave the Panthers the set point at 15-14. 

Stafford credited her dominance to Fairbanks and what they have practiced throughout the season.

“I think Rachel was setting well,” Stafford said. “I was swinging high and hard. We have been working on that all week in practice and this season. So I feel like today was the time to show it.”

Just like the Panthers, Louisville quickly responded with a kill from graduate student right side hitter Aiko Jones. But the Panthers defense then showed why they are one of the best in the Nation, causing two straight Cardinals attacking errors and sending the record crowd of 8,865 Panthers fans home happy with a reverse sweep win over the No. 4 team in the nation. 

The win helps the Panthers for their NCAA tournament resume, giving them a chance to become a top-four seed. But Fisher isn’t too worried about it. 

“[The win] gives us an argument,” Fisher said. “Frankly I’m not that concerned about a top-four seed. I have a concern about getting a good draw.”

The Panthers return to the Fitzgerald Field House on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. as they face a pesky Miami team for their last home game of the regular season.

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer