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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

Preview | Pitt women’s volleyball hosts first round of NCAA tournament

Pitt+volleyball+coach+Dan+Fisher+yells+during+Pitts+game+against+BYU+in+the+second+round+of+the+NCAA+womens+volleyball+tournament+in+the+Petersen+Events+Center+on+Dec.+3%2C+2022.+
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Pitt volleyball coach Dan Fisher yells during Pitt’s game against BYU in the second round of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament in the Petersen Events Center on Dec. 3, 2022.

Postseason volleyball officially starts this weekend for No. 1 Pitt (25-4, ACC 16-2) as it faces Coppin State (27-4, MEAC 13-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. If Pitt takes care of business against Coppin State, it will play the winner of UMBC (17-7, America East 8-2) and No. 8 USC (18-12, Pac 12 12-8) on Saturday at 7 p.m. 

The Panthers will have to play on back-to-back nights if they advance, and Pitt head coach Dan Fisher isn’t necessarily a fan of the concept.

“A day in between is more ideal,” Fisher said. “We have been lobbying as coaches for a day in between, so there is a day in between for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. But ideally for preparation and some rest and load reasons, a day in between is better.”

The lack of a rest day is even more difficult because the Panthers will potentially have to face a team that ended the season ranked No. 25 in the Coaches oll in USC. But Fisher knows his team can battle through adversity as they have in the past. 

“We had a tough road last year too,” Fisher said. “And we found a way. If we can advance, we will be really well prepared.”

Here is my rundown for all three teams the Panthers may face during the first weekend of postseason play:

Coppin State

The Panthers’ Friday night matchup is against Coppin State, who is appearing in its first ever NCAA Tournament. Fisher could tell in Coppin State’s championship game against Howard that making the NCAA Tournament meant a lot to them. 

“You could tell they were thrilled,” Fisher said. “I could see in that last game they played against Howard that it meant a lot, so congrats to them [on making their first NCAA Tournament].”

The Eagles’ attack is led by sophomore outside hitter TaKenya Stafford, Pitt first-year outside hitter Torrey Stafford’s older sister, who has a hitting percentage of .216. Stafford also leads Coppin State in both kills and attempts.

The Stafford sisters clashing in a tournament game is an interesting dynamic, but Fisher knows Torrey Stafford is prepared for the game and is happy that her parents won’t have to decide what game to go to. 

“The best thing is her parents don’t have to choose what game to go to,” Fisher said. “I don’t know how she is feeling about it, but I just know that she has been in big environments this whole year and she will be ready.”

Other than the intrigue of the two sisters facing off, the Panthers should easily beat the Eagles since the Panthers have far more firepower than the unseeded Coppin State. 

Although Coppin State is unseeded, Fisher is still bullish on the talent of the team’s hitting when in system, but he feels that the Panthers will have a big advantage if they force the Eagles out of system.

“I don’t think they have a bad arm on the team,” Fisher said. “If they are passing well, they will be a threat. I think we have a pretty big advantage out of system.” 

UMBC

A potential Saturday Night matchup for the Panthers is a familiar foe, UMBC, whom the Panthers beat 3-0 in late September in the Fitzgerald Field House. This time, the Panthers will potentially face off against the America East Champions in the Petersen Events Center for much higher stakes.

In the September matchup, Pitt made UMBC have a horrible day in the Fitzgerald Field House. The Retrievers had a season low in eight different categories — hitting percentage, kills, assists, service aces, digs, blocks, opponent errors and opponent hitting percentage.

To put it simply, if the Panthers match up with the Retrievers in round two, they need to repeat what they did in their last matchup against UMBC.

On the brighter side of things for the Retrievers, junior middle blocker Mila Ilieva was perfect offensively in the America East Championship. She hit 1.000 with nine kills, and if the Retrievers want to have a Cinderella run like their basketball team in 2018, they need Ilieva to stay hot.

UMBC’s offense runs through its outside and right side hitters — together, the pin hitters account for 65% of the team’s kills and attacks.

Fisher believes the reason the Retrievers have succeeded this season is because they are always prepared.

“They are well coached and have a great game plan,” Fisher said. 

USC 

The Panthers having a potential second-round matchup with a team that finished the season ranked in the top 25 shows how deep this season’s NCAA tournament is. 

But Fisher thinks this is helpful because he doesn’t have to worry about his team looking ahead to other potential matchups.

“When teams like USC are in your initial bracket, it’s pretty easy,” Fisher said. “They are very good.”

The reason USC has excelled this season is because it has one of the best players in the nation — senior outside hitter Skylar Fields. Of all the players in the NCAA Tournament, Fields leads in six different categories — kills per set, total kills, attacks per set, total attacks, points per set and total points.

The Trojan offense runs through Fields, and the Panthers need to find a way to stop the PAC-12 All-Conference Team player. In the nine games that Fields was kept to a hitting percentage below .260, USC went 3-6. 

But it’s not just as simple as stopping Fields. Fisher believes the Trojans altogether are playing their best volleyball of the season right now, but knows the Panthers have a distinct advantage coming into the game.

“They are playing their best volleyball at the end of the year,” Fisher said. “We think we have a serve-pass advantage. But they are very capable of not passing well and siding out.” 

 

 

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer