Pitt looks to face stiffest competition yet in LIU Brooklyn


By Caitlin Hinsey / Staff Writer

After an 11-1 start to the season, nothing is going to get easier for the Pitt volleyball team.

The Panthers face their toughest opponent of the season Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Long Island University Brooklyn Blackbirds come to the Fitzgerald Field House.

Pitt will put its unbeaten record at home on the line after notching six straight victories between the Panther Classic and the Pitt Panther Invitational. 

“I know that the team is very excited to play such a highly ranked team and knows the importance of this opportunity,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said. 

LIU Brooklyn (9-4, 0-0 NEC) has its eyes set on continuing its strong play, and Fisher is aware of it. 

“The team that is coming in this week is a team that will most likely be in the NCAA Tournament,” coach Fisher said. “They just beat Michigan State, so we’re not taking anything for granted, and we know that this is a team coming in that is capable of beating us. It will be a good challenge for us coming up.” 

LIU Brooklyn has already proven that it is capable of winning big matches, including a 3-2 win over the then-ranked No. 25 Spartans.

This match victory marked the first time in Blackbird history that the team beat a ranked opponent. The victory also marked the seventh straight win for LIU Brooklyn, as well as the third straight win coming via a score of three sets to two.

Since that match, the Blackbirds have gone 1-1, their last match being a win against Western Kentucky. That win clinched a first place finish at the Spartan Invitational, as the team won the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State. The tournament win was their second of the season.

“They are a pretty good team, and we are doing our best in practice to get better. I think we are ready for that team,” outside hitter Maria Genitsaridi said.

With their two wins against quality opponents, the Blackbirds are starting to receive national recognition. LIU Brooklyn was included in an article titled “NCAA Volleyball: 5 Things You Need to Know,” by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel.

The Blackbirds’ roster consists of four American and eight international players, so it’s no surprise that their top player is a European upperclassman. Annika Foit, an opposite forward from Hausach, Germany, is a potential All-American. For the past two years, the senior has been the NEC Player of the Year, and, this season so far, Foit has nine double-doubles as well as three straight NEC Player of the Week Honors. She also won the Spartan Invitational MVP for her strong play.

Pitt will need to play its best defensive game yet if they want to stop the Blackbirds’ top hitter. 

“We like to stay focused on ourselves first and figure out what we need to do in order to beat them,” opposite Mechael Guess said. “We want to think about what we need to do personally to beat this team.” 

“Like knowing what they’ll do in every rotation … so we’re prepared to stop them and beat them,” Genitsaridi added when asked about the Pitt’s preparation.

The Panthers will look to libero Delaney Clesen, the reigning tournament MVP, to lead the team in digs once again. Clesen finished this past weekend with 51 digs. 

Offensively, Pitt hopes that all the pieces of the team — hitting from the outside and middles — will come together. The Panthers’ top hitter, outside Jessica Wynn, didn’t have her best performance last time she played, so she is looking to rebound and get to top form once again. 

Opposite Kate Yeazel, who helped pick up the workload over the weekend with a season-high 12 kills, looks to ride her momentum into the match. Middle blocker Jenna Potts and middle hitter Amanda Orchard look to remain strong for the Panthers by providing top hitting and blocking numbers.

“We really worked on blocking because we know we can get a lot of blocks on them, so we have been doing that in practice,” Guess said.

The anchor for Pitt, setter Lindsey Zitzke, provided stability both offensively and defensively for Pitt this past weekend. In the three tournament matches, Zitzke totalled 72 assists and 22 digs, while also adding service aces. She is two aces away from becoming Pitt’s program record holder in that statistic.

Despite the success last weekend at the Pitt Panther Invitational, however, Fisher still believes his team is in for a fight.

“No longer are we the favored team. With most of the teams that we have played so far, we would have slightly been the favorite,” Fisher said. “I think this is a pretty even matchup. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”

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