Welcome Back: Battle tested, Pitt looks to build on solid first year in ACC

The members of the Pitt volleyball team can all agree on their goals for this season: make the NCAA Tournament and finish in at least the top four of the ACC.

“The team goal is my personal goal,” said sophomore outside hitter Maria Genitsaridi, who spent her entire summer training with the Greek national volleyball team. 

According to Genitsaridi, second year head coach Dan Fisher is looking to his seven returning players, which includes Genitsaridi and seniors Kate Yeazel, Delaney Clesen, Lindsey Zitzke and Jessica Wynn, to continue to lead the team offensively on the court. The team lost only two players to graduation. 

As Pitt enters its second season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the team knows that the path to achieving its goals won’t be smooth.

“The competition has definitely increased from the past [when the team was in the Big East], and that put a lot of pressure on us,” Zitzke said.

Four ACC teams made it to the NCAA tournament last year, and new member Louisville made it from the Big East.

“One thing we learned is that there are no easy games, and that if you want to make the tournament that you need to take every game seriously. Even your preseason games,” Yeazel said. “The competition in the ACC — everybody’s game. Everybody can take you down a notch at any given time.”

Pitt knows as much, because last season it was the one taking people down. Last preseason the Panthers were picked to finish 13th but surprised everyone but themselves by finishing the season tied for fifth. Their final record was 19-14 overall and 11-9 in conference play.

Fisher anticipates that his team will be excited for every match, and he personally can’t wait for a few particular ones. One of those matches is against Duquesne, which made the NCAA Tournament last season. Pitt will face them on their home court in the annual Panther Invitational on Sept. 12. The other matches are against ACC schools to which Pitt previously fell short of obtaining a victory.

“We had some close losses that I know won’t be forgotten. Notre Dame is one that comes to mind,” Fisher said.

In the teams’ only meetings last fall, the Panthers lost a five-set contest 3-2 at Notre Dame.

The 3-2 loss to NC State with an 18-16 fifth game is a memorable one for Yeazel. 

“We played them in a really close game and we didn’t close out in the end, so that will definitely be a good match to show them what we have this year,” she said. 

Two areas in which the team has been working hard throughout the offseason are defense and blocking. Pitt finished in the bottom half of the average blocks per set in the ACC and, defensively, Pitt ranked 13th in digs. By the end of the season, the Panthers were out-blocked by opponents and Yeazel said she believed that the reason for this, as well as their defensive struggles, is that the team didn’t play to their level. Instead, they opted to play to the levels of their opponents.

“If we just keep working on the stuff on our side of the net, then that’s going to translate to the game,” she said. “And just worry about our side instead of worrying about what they’re doing on their side.”

Yeazel added that the two areas are something that the team “relaxed on last year” but have worked on immensely this past offseason and summer.

One area that the team hopes will continue to be their strong point is their serving. Pitt led all 15 ACC schools in service aces with 208, almost 40 more than the second-ranked team. The team averaged 1.6 service aces per set.

The Panthers now know what it takes to be the top dog in the ACC and they have trained all summer to make sure they are ready to face whatever obstacles await them.

“We took this challenge in the right way and really learned from it. It opened up our eyes and now we know what we can do in this conference,” Zitzke said.