Pitt volleyball sets sights on home opener


Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By Logan Hitchcock / Staff Writer

After a successful triad of matches in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Pitt women’s volleyball team will hit familiar hardwood for the first time this season.

The Panthers will debut in front of their own fans, taking on a trio of opponents during this weekend’s Pitt/Duquesne Invitational. The matches themselves will take place over the course of two days at two separate venues.

Pitt will play host to Youngstown State Friday at 7 p.m. in the Fitzgerald Field House, and then Colgate on Saturday at noon. After that, the Panthers will travel downtown to the AJ Palumbo Center at Duquesne University to take on the Dukes at 7 p.m. on the same day.

The Panthers will head into the weekend with some momentum, as the team performed well in the Nebraska Invitational, where it faced Grand Canyon University, Tulsa and Nebraska.

After winning its first two matches against Grand Canyon and Tulsa, Pitt fell to No. 5 ranked Nebraska in four sets but didn’t come away without attempting to reap benefits from the matchup.

“We made a few mistakes offensively, but part of that is the environment,” head coach Dan Fisher said. “They have 9,000 people at every game. We’re hopeful that the experience will help us moving forward.”

While Pitt’s environment pales in comparison to  Nebraska’s, which averages more than 8,000 fans per contest, according to the school’s athletics website, the Panthers have seen a spike in fan attendance at the Fitzgerald Field House. Average fan attendance jumped from 470 fans per game in 2013 to 533 last season. Players like senior setter Jenna Jacobson are recognizing the steady swelling of support.

“We always like playing at home, and this year, people are starting to realize how good of a volleyball team we are,” Jacobson said.

The Panthers hope to use the confidence gained from last year’s successful season to improve on their 12-4 home record — and by doing so, finally earn a trip to the postseason.

“This season we want to make it to the NCAA tournament,” said senior middle hitter and returning All-ACC Team member Amanda Orchard.

To achieve its goal, the team will have to improve on its performance from last weekend, citing the team’s mentality as a work-in-progress.

“I think last weekend was a good start. We have a long way to go, but we showed that we can play at a higher level,” Orchard said. “I think we can work on getting more familiar with each other and maybe getting out of ruts sooner and not allowing the opposing team to get multiple points in a row.”

Agreeing with Orchard, Fisher said the team knows they are far from perfect, and sees plenty of room for improvement for both this weekend and the whole season.

“We need to get better at managing our game offensively, and we need to get better individually as well,” Fisher said.

The improvements might take time, but Jacobson and Orchard are using their roles as senior leaders to provide a mold.

“I’ve always tried to lead by example, and I think others respond well to it,” Jacobson said.

While the team will need some time to improve in all aspects of its game, the Panthers match up relatively well for this weekend’s contests — winning might not require the caliber of play needed to beat a team like Nebraska.

All three of Pitt’s opponents this weekend were comfortably below Pitt’s RPI at the end of last season. The Panthers ranked 49th last year, while Duquesne was 152nd, Youngstown State was 158th and Colgate was 220th. This year, none of the three teams have a winning record.

Despite the expectations to win, Pitt isn’t going to take any team lightly during its matches this weekend.

“It’s only been one weekend, so we don’t really know how good teams are yet,” Fisher said. “We are going to prepare for three tough matches.”

Still feeling fresh and ready to go, Jacobson is fervently awaiting the set of matches.

“There’s nothing but excitement coming from all of us,” Jacobson said.

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