Rossi serves defensive purpose

By Jay Huerbin

If there is one thing Pitt volleyball’s Michelle Rossi knows best, it’s defense. ‘In a sport… If there is one thing Pitt volleyball’s Michelle Rossi knows best, it’s defense. ‘In a sport like volleyball, every aspect of the game is extremely important,’ said Rossi. ‘[But] personally I enjoy frustrating the other team by digging their attacks that they thought would result in their point.’ Rossi, a junior, came to Pitt in 2006 as a defensive specialist, commonly referred to as a libero in volleyball. And since her arrival, she’s lived up to that position. As only the second libero in school history, Rossi has anchored the Pitt defense and used her skills to make an impact in Big East volleyball. After leading the team in digs as a freshman with 487, Rossi took control of the conference a year later by averaging 5.04 digs per game. ‘My early success definitely fueled me to work harder and continue to get better,’ said Rossi. ‘It has also made me have extremely high expectations for myself and pushes me to perform well to help allow my team to achieve our goals.’ First year head coach Toby Rens couldn’t be happier with Rossi’s play. ‘It’s awesome,’ said Rens. ‘Her work ethic and tenacity is second to none.’ Growing up in Parma, Ohio, a suburb southwest of Cleveland, Rossi was bound to keep the family volleyball tradition alive. Living in a household that had her sisters and her mother busy with the sport, volleyball was always on her mind. ‘Both my older sisters played volleyball, and I got to go to all their practices and games because my mom was their coach,’ said Rossi. ‘I loved going to my sister’s practices, and I tried to get in the drills as much as possible.’ That practice paid off. Rossi finished her high school career by breaking school records in digs, kills and aces. Her performance during those years forced colleges to take notice. Like it’s done to many of Pitt’s previous standouts, the Panthers coaching staff recruited Rossi heavily. There were other schools that went after her, too, but the urban atmosphere of Oakland brought her to Pittsburgh. ‘I was recruited by Pitt and other colleges, but Pitt really stuck out to me,’ she said. ‘I loved the campus, the coaching staff and the attitude by the players. I knew right away that I would love Pitt.’ Still, switching cities hasn’t changed her mind on who to root for in the NFL. Rossi, a life-long Browns fan, still holds the orange and brown dear to heart. But when it comes to Pittsburgh, it’s not about the Steelers or the Browns, it’s about winning games for the Panthers. ‘The Big East is an extremely difficult conference to play in because every game is so important,’ said Rossi. ‘Any team can win on any given day, and we can’t take any teams lightly. I’ve never seen or heard of a conference with this many upsets and ties.’ Excitement is always high for Rossi and the Pitt. Having already beaten teams like Cincinnati, Notre Dame and South Florida this season, the team has high expectations for the Big East tournament. And the pressure of playing tough games has brought Rossi and the rest of the team together. ‘Sharing an experience like playing a sport at this high of a level really brings you together,’ said Rossi. ‘They become your family away from home. We all share the same goals and that really brings us closer.’ The progress of Rossi has also kept the success going for Pitt. Having started in every game for the team since her freshman year, Rossi’s focus and never-give-up attitude are just what the coaching staff was looking for. Rens explained that the Panthers were looking for somebody to begin assuming a leadership role this season. In her third year at Pitt, Rossi had done just that. ‘While she is on the court, she is able to really communicate a lot of what she is seeing,’ said Rens. ‘She is very experienced as a player. So, it’s nice to see that improvement where she is really communicating a lot of good information to her teammates during the course of a game.’ It’s not just the coaches who are taking notice, though. Rens explained that the rest of the team rallies around her and that her work ethic both on and off of the court is what has earned her the respect of her teammates. ‘She embodies the type of player that would run through a wall for her team,’ he said. While Rossi appreciates that praise, she knows it’s not about personal success. For her, it’s about winning games as a team and making an impact in the Big East. She believes the attitude of the team is to always succeed. And although the season isn’t quite over for Pitt, the team is already expecting even bigger things from Rossi next year. ‘With the experience that she has garnered over the past three years as a starter, she’ll be able to share that with the team next year as a senior,’ said Rens. But for Rossi, looking at next year isn’t a top priority. ‘I think it is extremely important not to look too far ahead,’ she said. ‘My main focus now is to end this season strongly. I will start to digest the idea of being a senior next year in our off season.’