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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Pitt baseball players stand in the dugout during a game against Virginia Tech on March 24 at the Petersen Sports Complex.
Pitt baseball shows promise in weekend series in Texas
By Dylan Grace, Staff Writer • 12:32 am

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Pitt baseball players stand in the dugout during a game against Virginia Tech on March 24 at the Petersen Sports Complex.
Pitt baseball shows promise in weekend series in Texas
By Dylan Grace, Staff Writer • 12:32 am

Takeaways | Pitt volleyball displayed selflessness, courage in their dominant regular season

First-year+opposite+hitter+Olivia+Babcock+%285%29+serves+the+ball+in+front+of+a+record-setting+crowd+during+Saturday+afternoons+match+against+Louisville+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer
First-year opposite hitter Olivia Babcock (5) serves the ball in front of a record-setting crowd during Saturday afternoon’s match against Louisville at the Petersen Events Center.

No. 4 Pitt (25-4, ACC 16-2) volleyball winning their second consecutive ACC Title, the program’s fifth in seven years, didn’t just happen by chance. These honors were accomplished because of the culture and play style that Pitt head coach Dan Fisher has built into the program.

The Panthers have bought into Fisher’s culture and it’s one of the biggest reasons that all seven starters in the 5-1 were on either the All-ACC first team or All-ACC second team.

Selflessness

During every Pitt volleyball game, the last starter to get on the court is ACC Setter of the Year, junior Rachel Fairbanks. The Tustin, California, native doesn’t enter the court late because she has a superstition — it’s her showing Pitt fans a great example of the Panthers’ selflessness. 

Fairbanks’ late arrival to the court is due to her pregame handshake with junior middle blocker Bre Kelley, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the 2023 campaign.

“[Kelley] had an unfortunate injury, and Bre and I are super close on and off the court,” Fairbanks said. “Before every game, during the national anthem, I just tell myself to play for Bre. I just want to support her because she can’t be on the court.”

Fairbanks isn’t the only player on the Panthers who has shown this selflessness with their teammates throughout the season. 

The hitters on the roster almost always attribute their dominant performances to Fairbanks’ setting abilities. First-year outside hitter Torrey Stafford, an All-ACC first-team honoree, did this after one of her best performances of the season.

I think Rachel [Fairbanks] was setting well,” Stafford said after achieving a career-high 21 kills against Louisville in front of a record-setting crowd. 

Redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez, an All-ACC second-team honoree, said something eerily similar. 

“I think Rachel [Fairbanks] did a really good job,” Vazquez Gomez said about Fairbanks hitting 1.000 on four kills in her first set for the Panthers since announcing she’s returning for the 2024 campaign.

The Panthers never seem as if they’re worried about their own successes and have a selfless, team-first mindset. First-year right-side hitter Olivia Babcock, ACC Freshman of the Year, is a great example of this.

“To be honest, I don’t even really think about it,” Babcock said about dominating early against Boston College with four early kills in the match. “I don’t even think about it as dominating, I just think of it as doing what the team needs.”

The sentiment of “doing what the team needs” isn’t just the starters’ mindset.

“I came onto the team not knowing my role, but whatever role I am put in, I want to do my best at,” graduate student defensive specialist Logan Mosley said.“So going in [to games] I’m like alright, time to get the job done.”

A Panther who has the mindset of her success due to the entire team is All-ACC second team honoree, graduate student middle blocker Emma Monks.

“Feels good to just help the team win,” Monks said after a season-high 11 kills against ACC rival Georgia Tech. “[Middle blockers], you get set on perfect passes, so the passing was on point, setting was on point, so it really was a group effort.”

All skills players

In volleyball, like all sports, all positions have typical roles each player fulfills. But for Fisher, he doesn’t coach his players to just excel at one role — they can do it all. 

Graduate student middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo, All-ACC second team honoree, explained how Fisher coaches the team to have dynamic skills. 

“[Fisher] trains us to be all skills players,” Nwokolo said about her two aces and two digs against Virginia. “So we all have it in our skill set.”

Fisher’s dynamic coaching style is especially evident for Pitt’s setter, Fairbanks, who is one of the best defensive setters in the country. But despite her elite setting abilities, she trusts that her teammates are good setters, too.

“I love defense. It’s always a debate, do I like setting or hitting better, but honestly I think defense might be my favorite,” Fairbanks said after her 11-dig performance against Wake Forest. “It’s nice knowing everyone on our team is a good setter, so if I am digging, I know that we will still be able to get a good ball to our hitters and get a kill.”

Not afraid of a challenge

The Panthers have played in front of record-setting crowds in 2023, and they aren’t a team that has shied away from it.

Before Pitt traveled to Louisville in October, Stafford was extremely excited about the challenge of playing in front of 11,461 Cardinal fans rooting against Pitt.

“I feel like away games present a different challenge,” Stafford said. “There are few people rooting for you, you have to create your own energy.”

All-ACC second-team honoree and junior libero Emmy Klika had the challenge of taking over the starting libero role in 2023, and she was nothing but excited for the challenge.

“It’s a different feeling knowing that it’s my job and I have this new responsibility on the team,” Klika said. “It’s really exciting, and I think it is something that I can just run with and keep developing in every way I can.”

These two Panthers’ willingness to embrace challenges shows on the court. 

Against a top-four Louisville team in the Petersen Events Center, Stafford had a career-high 21 kills while hitting a blistering .439. And against top-10-ranked Oregon in the Fitzgerald Field House, Klika had a career-high 24 digs. 

The road ahead

The Panthers’ buying into Fisher’s culture and play style awarded them a great opportunity in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt has earned themselves a No. 1 seed, meaning they are playing at home until the final four.

First up for the Panthers on their road to a national championship, the MEAC Champions, Coppin State (27-4, MEAC 13-1) Friday evening at 7 p.m. in the Petersen Events Center.

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer