The Pitt News

Panthers open weekend series with hopes of cracking top 25

By Caitlin Hinsey / Staff Writer

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The Panther volleyball team hopes to carry the momentum of beating a ranked opponent into this weekend, when it faces two tough teams at home.

On Friday night, Pitt (21-4, 9-3 ACC) will host the Miami Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at the Fitzgerald Field House. The team will then welcome Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon in a rematch at 1 p.m.

After beating then-ranked No. 25 Duke last weekend and finding themselves in the top five in kills and assists in the country, the Panthers received 40 votes, placing them three spots away from cracking the top 25.

The team understands the importance of both matches, according to head coach Dan Fisher. Fisher said the team’s “focus level is good” right now in practice as it prepares to face a Hurricanes team ranked higher than Pitt in the ACC.

Senior setter Lindsey Zitzke and senior outside hitter Kate Yeazel reiterated their coach’s thoughts.

“We have been really trying to keep the momentum in practice all week,” Yeazel said.

Miami

As one of the top teams in the ACC, the Hurricanes will try to halt Pitt’s success Friday. What works in the Panthers’ favor is that Miami’s three conference losses have all come on the road. Still, the Panthers know they have their work cut out for them.

The biggest strength to the Hurricanes (17-7, 10-3 ACC) is their senior outside hitter Savanah Leaf. Leaf nabbed her third ACC Player of the Week award after her powerful play last weekend, including her team-leading 10th double-double. The senior, whom Fisher said could be the best player in the ACC, ranks 10th nationally and leads the ACC in kills per set (4.71).

Not to be outdone by her teammate, setter Haley Templeton received the other ACC title, Freshman of the Week, for the second consecutive time. Templeton tallied 81 assists in Miami’s two wins against Louisville and Virginia, which came out to an impressive 11.57 assists per set. Templeton’s setting isn’t the only thing that Pitt needs to watch. The freshman also recorded six service aces, five kills and five blocks to prove she is a real threat.

Fisher stressed the importance of defense in this match for his team, with Yeazel adding that the team has worked on blocking the outsides in practice all week. 

Virginia Tech

Only two weeks ago the Panthers lost to the Hokies 3-1 but will now try to avenge that loss on Sunday.

“We definitely want revenge,” Zitzke said. “We just need to work harder against them this next game by keeping the momentum.”

Yeazel said the team needs to improve working together.

“The first time we played them, everything kind of went wrong for us, and it kind of fell apart. If we really stick together as a team we’ll be a lot more successful this time,” she said.

Pitt will need to prevent its opponent from running away with the lead from the very start of the match this time. Two weeks ago, in the three sets Pitt lost, the team fell behind 8-3, 8-2 and 9-1. Fisher calls that type of play for Pitt “abnormal,” but said he can’t discredit the Hokies’ play.

“They are a really good team, and we don’t want to spot them an 8-2 lead in any set,” Fisher said. “We need to be a little better offensively. We didn’t connect with our middles [middle hitter Amanda Orchard and middle blocker Jenna Potts] as well as we could have when we played there.”

Virginia Tech (11-14, 4-8 ACC) has struggled throughout most of conference play but is hitting its stride right now as winners of two of three, including wins over Pitt and then-ranked Duke. The Hokies’ sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Owen, who in the last matchup led both teams with 14 kills, is coming off a subpar match against No. 8 UNC.

“Here we are in mid-November with really meaningful games,” the second-year coach said. “It’s pretty cool that the girls have earned the right to play in meaningful games right now so hopefully we’ll pull one more out on Friday.”

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Panthers open weekend series with hopes of cracking top 25