Pitt loses to ranked team for second loss of the season


A strong non-conference showing was probably what contributed to the 600-plus spectators that packed the Fitzgerald Field House on Friday, but passing and blocking issues spoiled the Pitt volleyball team’s chances to upset the first ranked team it played this year.

The Panthers lost their second game of the year Friday evening to the UNC Tar Heels in five sets. The narrow loss ended the team’s eight-match winning streak as well.

Members of the Pitt Band, Pitt Cheer and Pitt Dance came to support the team as it took on the No. 12 Tar Heels. Ultimately, Pitt lost 20-25, 25-21, 25-21, 19-25 and 15-10.

“We competed really well. Our heart was in it,” middle blocker Amanda Orchard said. “We fell short.”

Orchard, who had 10 kills, admitted that “they blocked us a lot.” The Tar Heels recorded 18 blocks on the night, 10 more than the Panthers.

Coach Dan Fisher agreed.

“I thought our middles offensively were good on the night,” he said. “I didn’t think any of our pins [outsides and right sides] really had their best night … We were a little off sync offensively the whole night, so that’s something we need to work on to get better.”

Offensively, the Panthers struggled to string together quality plays despite out-hitting their opponent, leading the kill count 61-48. Kate Yeazel, Jessica Wynn and Orchard each finished with double-digit kills, with 13, 11 and 11, respectively. Wynn’s eighth kill of the evening put her over 1,000 in her career.

“We didn’t pass the ball well enough tonight, and then we were running our offense way too much from 20 feet,” Fisher said.

But Fisher added that passing wasn’t the biggest problem Pitt faced.

“That is a lot of blocks, but to me the bigger problem is 14 aces,” he said.

UNC tallied 14 aces through five sets while Pitt, also a strong serving team, had seven, including two from setter Lindsey Zitzke, making her Pitt’s all-time record leader in that category.

The Panthers surprised the Tar Heels in the first set by exchanging points throughout most of the set. Late in the set, UNC scored four straight points, including three from errors by Orchard, libero Delaney Clesen and outside hitter/opposite Casey Durham and went on to win the set.

More back-and-forth scoring started the second, but, eventually, the Panthers took advantage of the Tar Heels’ lackadaisical play and went up 20-8. After eight set points, Pitt finished off the visitors to tie the match up.

The momentum of set two carried over into set three for Pitt, who easily handled its opponent and extended its lead to 18-12, with kills coming from six players during that stretch. UNC once again fought back, but service aces from Mariah Bell and Zitzke started and ended the Panthers’ final streak.

The Tar Heels returned to form in set four. UNC went up 6-2, causing Pitt to call an early timeout. Unable to find a consistent rhythm on both offense and defense, the Panthers never led in the set, while the Tar Heels recorded seven aces and won the fourth set.

“They made some adjustments late and started getting by our middles a couple times,” Fisher said of the set.

The Tar Heels also won the decisive final set, taking a quick 8-3 comeback to trail only 11-9. UNC scored four of the next five points to beat the Panthers.

“We really hung with them but … we let our emotions get the best of us in the tight situations,” Clesen said. “It’s the first time we’ve really been in a tight situation where we know we can play with this team and just kind of didn’t have it out there.”

Fisher said the Panthers wouldn’t have hung around as much as they did against their ranked opponent if not for Clesen. The libero had a game-high 25 digs.

“I don’t know what we would have done without her … her defense was phenomenal,” Fisher said. “We had girls on our team that had two digs and she had 25. That’s a pretty remarkable stat. She was everywhere in the backcourt. It was a great night for her.”

Fisher said the loss will be a learning experience for the team.

“The positive, I think, is that the girls know that they can win against these kinds of teams,” he said. “We need to have a little bit more composure and pass the ball a little better in the big games in order to win and keep working at it.”