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Opinion | I graduate in two weeks — a thank-you to my best friend
Opinion | I graduate in two weeks — a thank-you to my best friend
By Nada Abdulaziz, Staff Writer • 12:57 am

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Opinion | I graduate in two weeks — a thank-you to my best friend
Opinion | I graduate in two weeks — a thank-you to my best friend
By Nada Abdulaziz, Staff Writer • 12:57 am

Pitt volleyball falls to Nebraska in Final Four

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AP Photo/Chris O’Meara
Nebraska’s Merritt Beason (13) scores past Pittsburgh’s Torrey Stafford (4) and Emma Monks (9) during a semifinal match in the NCAA Division I women’s college volleyball tournament Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023, in Tampa, Fl.

Defense wins championships, and that was extremely evident in Tampa, Florida, for Pitt volleyball’s Final Four matchup against Nebraska.

“There [was] some ugly volleyball,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “We found a couple ways to win a couple points out of that, I just thought our serving and blocking and defense really put some pressure on Pittsburgh.”

The Cornhuskers held the Panthers to their second-lowest hitting percentage of the season and had the most blocks per set that Pitt allowed in one match. On the other side of the net, Pitt held Nebraska to a .245 hitting percentage which is respectable, but not nearly as impressive as the Cornhuskers’ defense.

The Panthers needed to avoid digging themselves into a hole in the earlier sets, like they did against Louisville. But at the media timeout, the Panthers were down 15-12 to the Cornhuskers. 

First-year outside hitter Torrey Stafford had a rough start by committing three attacking errors on her first five swings. But Stafford got the nerves out of her system quickly by responding with two kills before the media timeout.

Pitt shrunk Nebraska’s lead to two off the media timeout. But the Cornhuskers quickly responded with a 2-0 run, causing Pitt head coach Dan Fisher to call his first timeout of the set with the Panthers losing 19-15.

Once again, the Panthers shrunk the Cornhuskers lead. But they responded again, showing Pitt why they came into the match with a 32-1 record. This caused Fisher to once again call a timeout, this time trailing 22-17.

Fisher’s timeout didn’t rejuvenate the Panthers in set one, as Pitt ultimately lost 25-20. Pitt allowed Nebraska to have eight blocks in set one and only had two blocks when they are second in the nation in blocks per set, while the Cornhuskers are 22nd.

The second set was a must-win for Pitt, but the Panthers struggled again, allowing multiple Cornhusker runs. Fisher called a timeout with Pitt trailing 9-5 in the second set.

The Panthers allowed one more point off of Fisher’s timeout and then immediately switched the Panthers lineup into a 6-2. But the new lineup struggled at first, falling to a six-point deficit. The new lineup eventually started to figure it out though, decreasing the Cornhuskers’ lead and causing them to call a timeout leading 15-11.

Nebraska’s timeout led to both teams going on short runs of their own, bringing the score to 19-15. These back-and-forth runs caused Fisher to call his last timeout of the first set. 

With Pitt switching back to a 5-1, first-year right-side hitter Olivia Babcock caused some damage by adding two kills from the back row. Babcock’s run forced Cook to call a timeout leading 21-19.

“I got really pissed off,” Babcock said of her new mindset when Fisher switched back to the 5-1.  “I know that’s always my answer to that question, but I really got pissed off. I was kind of — I felt kind of selfish in the first set. I felt like I was really playing for myself, and I really hate that I have to say that in a match this is important.”

Cook’s timeout led to a 3-1 run for the Cornhuskers, which immediately took away nearly all hope Panther fans had in winning the second set. But redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez then went on a 3-0 service run bringing the Panthers’ hopes back. The Panthers’ hopes were quickly taken away, however, after a service error gave the Cornhuskers the set two victory, winning 25-23.

Now needing a reverse sweep, Pitt went back and forth with the Cornhuskers, but eventually fell apart. Junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst took over, getting two kills and a block causing Fisher to use a timeout with Pitt trailing 14-9.

Fisher’s timeout didn’t elicit any comeback for the Panthers, as Nebraska was doing whatever it wanted offensively and defensively. In the first and second set, the Cornhuskers hit .152 and .211, respectively. But in the third set, the Cornhuskers finished the set hitting .407, despite the Panthers forcing multiple attacking errors at the end of the set.

With everything going Nebraska’s way in the third set, they won 25-17 and took away all of the Panthers’ hopes that they had of advancing to the first national championship in program history.

Graduate student middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo is ending her career at Pitt on a sour note, but the middle blocker is really going to remember how special of a team she played on in 2023. 

“Just how special of a group this is,” Nwokolo said. “Just being around good people all the time is just very rare, and like I can genuinely say that everybody in our staff and on our team at Pitt in general are just like genuinely good people to be around.” 

And Fisher is going to remember Nwokolo for the culture she brought to Pitt volleyball. 

“I think we’re a team that talks a lot about how much we value culture,” Fisher said. “And I think obviously a lot of that starts with the coaches, but it’s really the job of Chia and Lexis and Valeria.”

About the Contributor
Matthew Scabilloni, Senior Staff Writer