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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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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

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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

Pitt volleyball completes the reverse sweep, advances to Final Four

Pitt+volleyball+in+the+Fitzgerald+Field+House+during+their+game+against+Louisville+on+Saturday.
Hannah Levine | Staff Photographer
Pitt volleyball in the Fitzgerald Field House during their game against Louisville on Saturday.

Last season, the Panthers fell to ACC rival Louisville in heartbreaking fashion in the Final Four. 

And nothing in sports feels better than sweet, sweet, revenge. And Pitt volleyball achieved that today after defeating the team they lost to in the Final Four last season by way of the reverse sweep.

In the postgame, head coach Dan Fisher was very proud of his team and their fight.  

“I continue to be amazed by this group,” Fisher said. “Just their will.”

The Cardinals’ serve gave the Panthers fits early in set one. Pitt contained senior outside hitter Anna DeBeer’s serve easily, which they have struggled with in the past. But after her, Pitt couldn’t stay in system.

Louisville’s junior libero Elena Scott had an early service ace. The Panthers couldn’t get a clean pass during serve receive, which made Fisher call a timeout with the Cardinals leading 11-6.

Fisher’s timeout rejuvenated the Panthers’ offense initially with redshirt senior Valeria Vazquez Gomez leading the charge with two kills to bring the Panthers within two points.

But the Cardinals came racing back with a kill from sophomore middle blocker Cara Cresse and a kill from DeBeer forcing Fisher to call his last timeout of the set with the Cardinals leading 19-14.

Panther fans saw veteran leadership after Fisher’s timeout with graduate student middle blocker Emma Monks earning two kills and Vazquez Gomez adding a kill and an ace of her own. This scoring surge forced Louisville head coach Dani Busboom Kelly to call her first timeout of the set with the Cardinals leading 21-19.

Kelly’s timeout helped the Cardinals close set one out, despite the Panthers’ best effort to mount a comeback. First-year right-side hitter Olivia Babcock added two kills and first-year Torrey Stafford earned a kill. But off the Panthers’ kills, Louisville responded and the Cardinals won the first set 25-23.

In his pregame press conference, Fisher said he expected many tie games within each set and that was the case in the second set. The teams went back-and-forth throughout with Vazquez Gomez, Stafford and Babcock all getting multiple kills for Pitt. For Louisville DeBeer, Cresse and junior outside hitter Charitie Luper got multiple kills. The back-and-forth gave the Cardinals a 15-14 advantage at the media timeout.

DeBeer used the media timeout to her advantage earning two kills and forced a Fisher timeout with the Cardinals leading 19-16.

The Fisher timeout couldn’t help the Panthers’ comeback efforts as the Cardinals only extended their lead. Scott’s two consecutive service aces halted the Panthers’ comeback attempts and helped the Cardinals win the second set by a score of 25-20.

With Pitt down 2-0 junior setter Rachel Fairbanks believed the Panthers had nothing to lose at this point.

“When you are down 2-0 you literally have nothing to lose,” Fairbanks said. “You have to give it your all, there’s no other option, you can’t hold back anything.”

Stafford had a different strategy to shift the match around.

“We held hands, we screamed,” Stafford said. “If there was someone in the bathroom they heard it.”

The Panthers and Cardinals started the third set just as they did in the second set, back-and-forth with no team taking complete control until the Panthers went on a run with defensive specialist Dilyn Griffin at the service line. 

Griffin forced the Cardinals out of system at the service line which helped the Panthers block out tremendously. The defensive specialist’s late run gave Pitt a 15-12 lead at the media timeout.

The Panthers went on their strongest run of the match in the third set with Fairbanks doing it all. Fairbanks had a kill, block and three assists forcing a Louisville timeout with Pitt leading 20-15.

Fairbanks, who struggled with DeBeer in the past, was proud that she was not an easy target for the Cardinals.

“Blocking in general, usually a setter in the front row is seen as a target,” Fairbanks said. “I don’t want to be seen as a target.”

While Fairbanks did it all at the service line, Vazquez Gomez went on a service run of her own that was kept alive by Stafford.

Stafford terminated any ball set to her and senior serving specialist Cat Flood capped it off with a service ace to give the Panthers a 25-16 win in set three. 

Louisville took the first two points against the Panthers in the fourth set, but with Babcock at the service line, the Panthers quickly took the lead. Babcock, who had struggled throughout the game, earned the Panthers two aces and caused Louisville to call a timeout while trailing 7-4.

Pitt volleyball in the Fitzgerald Field House during their game against Louisville on Saturday.

Babcock’s first-year running mate, Stafford, had high praise for the right-side hitter in the postgame, especially when she’s at her best. 

“When she’s on, she’s on,” Stafford said. “Emotionally and as you can see, on the court.”

Despite a 3-0 run for Louisville, the Panthers kept on the gas with their defense forcing multiple Cardinals attacking errors and a timeout from Kelly with Pitt now leading 14-9.

The Panthers kept adding to their lead after all the Cardinals timeouts were used for the set. The Panthers won the fourth set by a score of 25-19, making set five the determining factor on which ACC team travels to Tampa, FL.

The Panthers started set five showing they would enjoy a trip to Florida in December with a quick 4-1 run headed by two Babcock kills.

Pitt would not allow themselves to lose in five sets again with graduate student middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo leading the way with a kill and a block. Nwokolo’s dominance forced a timeout from Louisville with Pitt leading 11-3. 

The Panthers finished their quest for revenge on fire ultimately winning the fifth set by a score of 15-7.

The Panthers return to action in Tampa, FL on Thursday night to face the winner of Nebraska and Arkansas in the National Semifinals.

Advancing to the National Semifinals is no easy task, but it has become the usual for Pitt as this is their third consecutive Final Four. 

But it’s Stafford’s first time in the Final Four and she is especially excited for this opportunity with the people she loves.

“I’m really excited and I’m going with the girls that I love, who love me,” Stafford said. “I am just ready to win a National Championship.”

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer