The Pitt News

Women’s volleyball prepares for test of Michigan Challenge

Stephanie+Williams+led+the+Pitt+volleyball+team+to+a+3-0+record+at+the+2016+UCSB+Thunderdome+Classic.+Jeff+Ahearn+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Stephanie Williams led the Pitt volleyball team to a 3-0 record at the 2016 UCSB Thunderdome Classic. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Stephanie Williams led the Pitt volleyball team to a 3-0 record at the 2016 UCSB Thunderdome Classic. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Stephanie Williams led the Pitt volleyball team to a 3-0 record at the 2016 UCSB Thunderdome Classic. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich / For The Pitt News

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After two mostly successful tournament runs this season, the Pitt women’s volleyball team will move onto the boss level during an invitational this weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Freshman outside hitter Stephanie Williams is not underestimating the challenge.

“I think this is the toughest tournament that we’re going to be in [before ACC play begins],” Williams said.

Williams and the young Panthers team will travel to the Michigan Challenge at the University of Michigan this weekend. The team will square off against South Carolina (4-2) and Western Michigan (1-8) on Friday and then face an undefeated No. 24 Michigan (6-0) in a critical match on Saturday.

The lineup marks the only tournament this year in which the Panthers will face multiple “Power Five” conference opponents in South Carolina and Michigan. Despite the rigid competition and the long trek, the Panthers still say they will feel at home.

“When we go away, we still like to call that our home court,” starting libero Angela Seman said. “We embrace the challenge and think their fans are cheering for us, so that really helps us get into the mentality we need.”

These three teams are a step up in skill from Pitt’s 3-0 outing last weekend at the Duquesne/Pitt Invitational.

“I think that any of these three teams can beat us,” said head coach Dan Fisher.

Even with the obstacle ahead, the team sees this as an opportunity to grow and showcase what they’ve worked on during practice. Last weekend the team struggled with too many attacking errors, which made that a point of emphasis this week.

“I think we’ve been really focusing on repeatable moves, especially on blocking and going hard on defense,” Williams said.

Pitt can apply these type of adjustments to the matches this weekend and hopefully perfect them in time for conference play.

The slate of tough tournaments early on will break in the new freshmen class and accelerate their acclimation to the game. There are six true freshmen and one redshirt freshman, and two of those players are in the starting six.

“We are just so ecstatic with how good our freshmen are,” Fisher said.

Freshman starter Stephanie Williams had a total of 22 kills at the Duquesne/Pitt Invitational. These are impressive early season numbers and the team hopes this is a sign of good things to come from her and the entire freshmen class.

“Everyone’s been really great and helpful,” Williams said. “It’s just really fun being out there and being able to contribute to the team.”

The other starting freshmen have had a different route to seeing the court. Angela Seman redshirted last year and learned under the tutelage of senior libero Delaney Clesen, who graduated last year.

“Being on the bench last year and really watching [Clesen] I learned so much from her,” Seman said. “Now I get to finally prove myself.”

Seman provided an indelible spark last weekend, making some tremendous digs from the libero position. She ended the weekend with an impressive 61 digs in three games to lead the team.

Each of these two players’ performances has been encouraging individually, but team results are paramount. Fisher said these non-conference games are key contests leading up to ACC play.

“One [key] is you can never lose to the teams you’re supposed to beat,” Fisher said. “And the other one is we want to get big wins.”

With the current progress of the team, the Panthers could realistically get some of those “big wins” this weekend. Still, Fisher’s focus is on the long game.

“Aside from just the wins and losses, we want to just keep improving,” Fisher said.

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Women’s volleyball prepares for test of Michigan Challenge