The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

First-year guard Aaryn Battle (1) dribbles the ball during Thursday evening’s game against Wake Forest in the Petersen Events Center.
Pitt women’s basketball falls back into their old habits, fall to Wake Forest 65-50
By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer • 9:10 am

Takeaways | Pitt volleyball shines in early postseason play but must play with confidence to return to the Final Four

Junior+setter+Rachel+Fairbanks+%2810%29+sets+up+a+spike+for+a+teammate+during+Saturday+night%E2%80%99s+match+against+USC+in+the+second+round+of+the+2023+NCAA+Tournament+at+the+Petersen+Events+Center.
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks (10) sets up a spike for a teammate during Saturday night’s match against USC in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at the Petersen Events Center.

No. 1 Pitt volleyball showed out in rounds one and two of the NCAA tournament. The Panthers beat Coppin State in a sweep and then USC 3-1. Their victories highlight the team’s potential in the tournament. However, if mistakes are not corrected and adjustments are not made, an early out is possible for the Panthers. 

Here are my takeaways.

A nervous Pitt team will not go far

With heightened nerves and stakes, Pitt struggled during early sets in both matches. Initial runs by both the Eagles and Trojans led to the Panthers playing catchup in both first sets. High attendance and playing in the Petersen Events Center could have contributed to the early nerves of the team. Working on staying in the correct mindset will benefit their advancement. Panthers head coach Dan Fisher welcomes the nerves in a healthy amount. 

“We want the nerves,” Fisher said. “We just don’t want it to turn into a bunch of unforced errors. I do think it will help to be back at the field house.”

On Saturday, the environment at the Petersen Events Center did not shake the Trojans. The Panthers made easily avoidable mistakes and gave up far too many points on attack errors and missed blocks. Once the team shook out their nerves and got comfortable, the recognizable commanding Panthers emerged. However, it only happened after Pitt lost the first set. 

If the Panthers can lock in and focus on the prize, they’ll be solid. Hopefully for them, returning to the Fitzgerald Field House will help. 

Players are setting records and showing out

Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks had a historic game against the Trojans. She recorded a double-double with 41 assists and 10 digs. Her 41 assists are tied for fourth for most assists in an NCAA tournament match in program history. 

Fairbanks acts as the backbone of the team, both as the setter and as a leader. First-year right-side Olivia Babcock praised her motivation as a factor in the tide turning against USC. 

“Rachel definitely played a huge part in us flipping the switch,” Babcock said. “She would tell us what we needed to hear.”

Similar to Fairbanks, senior middle blocker Emma Monks recorded eight blocks, which is tied for the most blocks in an NCAA tournament match in program history. Also, Babcock notched six blocks, 16 kills, 12 digs and two aces at the USC game. Numbers like these will take Pitt far. 

Blocking is where we stop our best opponents

One advantage the Panthers had was their ability to slow down USC senior outside hitter Skylar Fields. Fields is ranked as one of the best hitters in the country. Pitt’s defense kept her at a .200 for the match. 

Pitt hitters did not have the same problem, however. Torrey Stafford held a .345 hitting percentage and Babcock registered 16 kills. Once again, Pitt’s duo of first-years are making names for themselves. Babcock cited the importance of the match as what kept her going. 

“I started to think about how important this was,” Babcock said. “Every game from this point on is season-ending. So that’s when I knew I had to go out and just do my thing.”

At the Louisville match back in November, Pitt started to find their footing when the blocks landed. If a rematch is in the near future, the Panthers should play to their strengths. 

Serving under pressure needs work

One stark discrepancy in the USC match was the difference in serving. The Trojans notched nine aces while only registering eight service errors. On the other hand, Pitt only saw three aces while also registering eight service errors. 

Pitt has a great service lineup with a depth of talent. However, some reliable servers did not have a great game Saturday. Senior outside hitter Cat Flood and sophomore defensive specialist Dillyn Griffin had two service errors each with no aces. Griffin and Flood are regular substitutions to serve and have both shown consistency throughout the season. 

The Panthers made easy work of Coppin State due in part to their success at the service line. The Panthers finished out the match with a dominating final set characterized by great service line runs from Stafford and junior libero Emmy Klika. 

Service errors are easy points for the opposing team that Pitt cannot afford to keep giving away. Getting their servers back on their game is a way for the Panthers to stay ahead. 

Losing a set to USC was a wake-up call that Pitt will face great teams and huge obstacles. When Pitt fires on all cylinders, it can take out any team. As Babcock said before, every loss is season-ending. Therefore, the Panthers need to focus on the prize and do what they do best — win. 

Pitt continues dancing on Dec. 7 at the Fitzgerald Field House against No. 4 Washington State. If the Panthers beat the Cougars, they play the winner of No. 3 Creighton and No. 2 Louisville on Saturday, Dec. 9.

About the Contributor
Patrick Diana, Staff Writer