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Pitt prepares for second home tournament

By Caitlin Hinsey / Staff Writer

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Pitt wraps up tournament play this weekend when it hosts South Florida, Sacred Heart and Delaware in the Pitt Panther Invitational. Pitt faces USF, a former Big East opponent, Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Fitzgerald Field House. The following day, Pitt will host Sacred Heart at 12:30 p.m. and finishes its night at 7 p.m. against Delaware.

With a current record of 8-1, Pitt appears to have found the key to winning. 

“We have had pretty good defense and passing recently, and we’re going to keep trying to focus on our offense,” Lindsey Zitzke, a senior setter, said. 

The senior added that “putting pressure on the other team” will lead their opponent to get “out of system” which, in turn, will lead to Pitt being able to “clamp down blocking-wise, which will continue to help our defense be good.”

Ellie Burns, a sophomore defensive specialist, said that the team’s success will come from its serving. Coach Dan Fisher agreed and said he hope that’s the case. 

Fisher’s only concern is the team’s serve reception. He said he hopes that the team will limit the number of service aces against them by turning some of the passes into good ones to allow Pitt a chance to continue play.

Fans attending the matches this weekend will have to keep an eye on Pitt’s entire roster, according to Fisher. Two team members who have played well lately for Pitt are middle blocker Jenna Potts and middle hitter Amanda Orchard. Potts, a redshirt sophomore, leads the team in total blocks. Her 43 blocks are almost double that of Orchard.

Potts leads the conference in blocking and is top 10 in the nation. Orchard, a junior, leads the conference with a .452 hitting percentage.

Fisher said he predicts senior outside hitter Jessica Wynn — who averages almost four kills per set — will have a big weekend.

South Florida

The Bulls (4-5) come into the Pitt Panther Invitational on a two-game win streak with an aim to avenge last year’s loss to the Panthers.

Last season, Pitt travelled to Tampa to participate in the USF Invitational. In the tournament’s Friday night marquee, Pitt stole the match away from USF with a 3-2 win. It was a battle between the two teams, with Pitt winning sets two, four and the decisive fifth set.

“I would imagine that South Florida is getting pretty pumped up for our game,” Fisher said. “They had a packed house, and I’m sure the returning players remember that.”

One player the Panthers are looking out for is outside hitter Erin Fairs. The junior is on track to have another stellar year for the Bulls after her AAC Player of the Year campaign last fall when Fairs totaled 429 kills and averaged 3.73 kills per set. Defensively, Fairs is also a strong player, averaging 4.41 digs per set.

Fisher has a gameplan on how to defend the hard-hitting righty.

“We’re going to need to serve tough and get them off the net and take advantage of her hitting most of her swings off the net,” he said.

Both Zitzke and Burns are looking forward to playing USF. 

“South Florida will be the best competitor here,” Burns said.

For Ziztke, USF has been her class’ “rival,” with the two teams meeting each year to play. Since Zitzke’s arrival at Pitt, the Panthers secured two wins to South Florida’s one.

Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart (4-5) also comes into the weekend with a lot of confidence. The Pioneers have won three in a row after dropping four out of five matches to start the year.

The Pioneers are a youthful team, with over half the roster consisting of underclassmen. One of Sacred Heart’s top players is a sophomore. Middle blocker/right side Sarah Krufka is the reigning 2013 Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year and has continued her success this season. Krufka leads the team in kills, averaging 3.58 kills per set. Teammate Tori Kemper is second to Krufka in hits. The junior outside hitter currently ranks third on the team in digs per set.

Delaware

Delaware (7-5) is the only team Pitt will play this weekend that is above .500 but have lost two out of its previous three matches.

The Blue Hens have depth, with multiple players leading the team on any given day. Libero Ariel Shonk is a returning junior who entered this season averaging 5.60 digs per set. Another returning player for Delaware is outside hitter Katie Hillman. The junior is the team’s active leader in career hits with 705, 129 so far this season. Battling Hillman for the outside hitter position is sophomore Autumn Jenkins. Jenkins averages 2.91 kills per set, placing her 10th in the Colonial Athletic Association and only one spot behind Hillman, whose average is 2.93.

 

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Pitt prepares for second home tournament