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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

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • 1:05 pm
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • 1:06 am

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • 1:05 pm
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • 1:06 am

Preview | Pitt volleyball looks to qualify for its first-ever National Title game by taking down Nebraska on Thursday

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.

The Final Four has become a yearly destination for head coach Dan Fisher’s Pitt volleyball program, as they are playing in their third straight National Semifinal. The Panthers will take the court on Thursday night at 7 p.m. against a team they played two years ago in the Final Four — Nebraska.

For Fisher, the reason the Panthers made three straight Final Four appearances is because of the players and how hard they practice. 

“We have very good players that care a lot about their teammates and their team culture,” Fisher said. “We don’t have selfish players at Pitt that are in it for the wrong reasons. And we train hard.”

Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks agreed with Fisher’s sentiment at a press conference on Wednesday but added that Fisher didn’t give himself nearly enough credit for the success of Pitt volleyball.

The last time the Panthers played Nebraska in the National Semifinal, Pitt was just grateful to make it to the Final Four and lost to the Cornhuskers in four sets. This time around, the Panthers are coming into Tampa, believing they have two games to play.

“When we first made it, it was like, wow, we’re in the Final Four,” graduate student middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo said. “Now it’s like, okay, we have two games left.”

Fairbanks believes this journey to Tampa is simply a business trip for a National Championship.

“It’s a business trip,” Fairbanks said. “We came here to play volleyball. And first up is Nebraska, and then our goal is the national championship.”

With Nebraska as the first client on the business trip, the Cornhuskers bring tons of enticing matchups against the Panthers for fans to watch.

Nebraska leads the nation in opponent-hitting percentage with a .134, but Pitt trails not too far behind with a.138 in the same statistic.

The Cornhuskers keep their opponents to such a low hitting percentage because of their excellent back row play led by junior libero Lexi Rodriguez, who averages 3.62 digs per set. Middle blockers sophomore Bekka Allick and first-year Andi Jackson round out the Cornhuskers’ front row, averaging a combined 2.55 blocks per set.

Pitt, on the other hand, causes their opponents to have a hitting percentage of .138 because of graduate student middle blockers Emma Monks and Nwokolo, who together average a total of 2.74 blocks per set. Junior libero Emmy Klika also helps the Panthers’ defense, averaging 3.05 digs per set.

In a clash of two powerful back rows, whichever offense manages to overpower its opponent’s defense more often will have a huge leg up in this National Semifinal matchup. 

When matched up with Pitt or Nebraska, opponents have brought similar strategies at the service line. Opponents have tended to serve at the Panthers’ or Cornhuskers’ first-year outside hitters during the NCAA Tournament. 

But luckily for Nebraska and Pitt their first-year outside hitters have excelled when served at. Nebraska’s Harper Murray is passing 33 percent of the time on serve receive and has a successful pass to keep Nebraska in-system 55 percent of the time. For Pitt, Torrey Stafford is passing 38 percent of the time during serve receive and has a pass that keeps Pitt in-system 57 percent of the time.

The team that stays in-system more often, which is led by first-year outside hitters, will have a massive advantage in this Final Four matchup. 

Another key matchup that Fisher has his eyes on is how both right-sides perform on Thursday night.

“It’s an interesting match-up because she obviously carries a big load for them and similar to how Olivia does for us,” Fisher said about junior right-side hitter Merritt Beason. “It will be interesting to see who performs better.”

Newly named AVCA Freshman of the Year and First-team All-American Olivia Babcock does have similar hitting statistics to Beason. Babcock has a hitting percentage of .311, while Beason has a .293. Beason averages 3.86 kills per set, and Babcock averages 3.6.

Fisher was absolutely correct in his statement — both are used frequently and produced in their role. Whichever of the two First-Team All-Americans plays better on Thursday night will help out their team tremendously in advancing to the National Championship. 

With all these similarities within the teams, Fisher sees one difference in the teams’ philosophies.

“The biggest difference is that we’re a little bit more aggressive on out-of-system balls,” Fisher said. 

If the Panthers’ aggression on out-of-system balls succeeds, it will give the Panthers a great chance at keeping their season until Sunday afternoon.

The Panthers National Semifinal matchup starts Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, where they have a chance to make their first ever National Championship game.

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer