Pitt readies for weekend ACC battles with Notre Dame, Syracuse


The Panthers’ volleyball team wants to make a comeback this weekend from a thrilling, close loss to a top 25-ranked opponent, but it’ll take a lot of work. With ACC play in full swing, Pitt continues to face tough competitors.

Notre Dame visits the Fitzgerald Field House at 7 p.m. Friday. Following that match, the team makes a quick turnaround, traveling to Syracuse to play the Orange in the Panthers’ first away match since Sept. 6 — a loss to Colorado in Boulder.

Redshirt sophomore Jenna Potts is excited for the weekend’s play.

“We have been home for a long time. It’ll be a nice change-up to go on the road,” the middle blocker said. “It’s going to be a battle.”

Head coach Dan Fisher agreed. 

“We haven’t been on the road in awhile. It’s a very important two games for us,” Fisher said.

The home-away match weekend is new for Pitt. Last season, the Panthers did not have a single split weekend, but Fisher thinks the Panthers won’t have to make major adjustments, as the majority of the team competed at Syracuse last year.

Both of Pitt’s opponents find themselves in the bottom of the ACC rankings, with Notre Dame tied for twelfth and Syracuse in dead last at fifteenth, but Fisher knows the Panthers can’t afford to get too complacent.

“Mostly, we’re just going to have to be ready to go to war,” Fisher said. “If we slip into thinking that its going to be easy, that’s when you lose.”

Notre Dame

Pitt currently holds a 8-1 record on its home court, but the team knows the Irish can wreak havoc there as well.

Notre Dame (4-11, 1-3 ACC) is a better team than its record indicates, according to Fisher. The Irish topped Syracuse 3-1 only one week ago, and five of their losses have come against ranked opponents — including two fellow ACC schools, Florida State and Duke — in the last eight days.

“They took a set off of a top 25 team [Duke],” Fisher said. “We have to operate under the assumption that they’re playing a lot better and that they are a dangerous team … We are expecting a very competitive team to come in.”

In their most recent meeting last November, Pitt fell on the road in a close 3-2 match, so Fisher and the team know the Irish are better than what its stats suggest.

“They were in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. They have good players on their team,” Fisher said before adding, “They’re going to want to win and turn their season around.”

Leading Notre Dame in hitting this season is returning middle blocker/right side Jeni Houser. The senior is hitting .254 with 150 kills. Houser ranks second on the team in kills with 2.78 and blocks with 29.


The Orange has struggled this season, finding themselves with a below .500 record and no conference victories entering Friday’s match against Miami. Syracuse (7-9, 0-4 ACC) has had a lackluster season, considering that they tied for fifth last year with Pitt in the ACC standings.

“I’m a little surprised by where they are at this point,” Fisher said.

Fisher knows, though, that one match can change the course of a season for any team.

“It was around this point last year when we played them early and they were 1-4 or something like that [note: actually 2-5] and they really turned their season around,” Fisher said. “They are not going to want to lose a game.”

The Panthers split last year with Syracuse, losing at home but winning a month later on the road.

As well as being familiar with Syracuse’s arena, Pitt knows Syracuse’s strong spots, including junior outside hitter Silvi Uattara and redshirt senior middle blocker Lindsay McCabe. Uattara leads Syracuse in hitting with almost four kills per set while McCabe — who ranks third in blocking in Syracuse program history — has 84 blocks on the season, averaging 1.40 coming per set.

Setter Jenna Jacobson knows the increased level of competition is something the Panthers will have to get used to. 

“Everyone in the ACC is pretty good. We’re excited for the competition,” the junior said.

Pitt will rely on its strong play all across the board. Offensively, opposite Kate Yeazel and outside hitter Jessica Wynn will continue their hot starts to the year along with middle hitter Amanda Orchard. Orchard has played strongly for Pitt, hitting well over .400 for the season. Libero Delaney Clesen will be the anchor in the backcourt for the Panthers.

Serve receiving was problematic against North Carolina, as the team surrendered 14 aces. This week, the team has focused on improving in that area.

“The passers have basically been working one-on-one with the coaches all week and they have been really focused,” Potts said.

“In practice, we didn’t get aced once today [Wednesday], so that’s a big improvement,” Jacobson added.

Fisher has faith that his team will find a way to come out of this weekend unscathed, and continue its solid season.

“I’m pretty confident the girls know how important the next string of games are,” Fisher said.