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Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 in Michigan Challenge over weekend - The Pitt News

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Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 in Michigan Challenge over weekend

Pitt+head+coach+Dan+Fisher+switched+Mariah+Bell+%2810%29+from+left+to+right+hitter+during+the+Michigan+match+to+try+and+change+things+up+for+the+win.+%7C+Jeff+Ahearn+%2F+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Pitt head coach Dan Fisher switched Mariah Bell (10) from left to right hitter during the Michigan match to try and change things up for the win. | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher switched Mariah Bell (10) from left to right hitter during the Michigan match to try and change things up for the win. | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher switched Mariah Bell (10) from left to right hitter during the Michigan match to try and change things up for the win. | Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By David Leftwich / For The Pitt News

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At its toughest invitational this season, Pitt volleyball didn’t meet a challenge until it was too late.

Ask Pitt head coach Dan Fisher.

“We won the first two, but I don’t think we played as well as we could have actually, even though we won,” Fisher said.

Those first two wins, against South Carolina and Western Michigan, didn’t give Pitt enough momentum to take down No. 24 Michigan, making the Panthers settle for a 2-1 record this weekend in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Challenge.

Pitt senior hitter Amanda Orchard helped lead the team to its 5-1 record going into the weekend. Heading into Michigan, Orchard said she knew it would be a hard trip.

“We were excited about this weekend,” Orchard said. “We knew it was going to be a tough weekend, and we knew we had three good teams to play.”

In the first match of the weekend, the Panthers took on a 4-2 South Carolina squad from the Southeastern Conference.

The Panthers started strong, jumping to an early 17-7 lead in the first set. The team went on to easily win that set 25-18.

In the second set, South Carolina put up a harder fight. Three lead changes occurred  in the Gamecocks’ only win of the match.  Pitt lost an early 8-4 lead and came back to tie the game at 13-13, including two kills by Pitt redshirt junior Jenna Potts. South Carolina surged back and won the set 25-20.

After the second set, Pitt returned to dominate the final two sets for a 3-1 match win, never trailing in either set.

Orchard attributed the turnaround to the team’s will to win.

“We knew we did not want to lose,” she said. “We kept a positive attitude, and we just looked each other in the eyes and we just knew we wanted to pull out a win.”

The team had solid attacking percentages throughout the match, particularly in the fourth closeout set.

During those sets, the team converted their attacks at a .677 percentage. Pitt sophomore hitter Mariah Bell had a very strong performance in the match with 10 kills and an efficient .474 kill percentage, while Orchard maintained a .500 percentage on seven kills.

Bell gave the credit for her strong performance to the team’s setters.

“They were really mixing up the set, so it was easy to find hands and be able to hit over them,” Bell said.

A few hours after South Carolina, the Panthers had to turn around and play a 1-8 Western Michigan team.

Despite sloppy play, the Panthers managed to pull off a 3-0 match win against the Mid-American Conference team.

The first set was a grind with Pitt maintaining a slight lead throughout, but some late kills by Orchard helped lead the team to a first-set win.

Like the first set, the second and third sets were close with Pitt keeping a consistent edge. Eventually, Pitt pulled away and won the second and third sets 25-19 and 25-20, respectively.

Potts had eight kills on 14 attempts, while Orchard had a career-high 13 kills and an outstanding .722 kill percentage.

Awaiting the Panthers after the strong Friday start were the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines.

The first set of the match was hotly contested, each team taking a lead before matching each other point for point. After being tied at 21, Michigan pulled away to earn a 25-22 first set win.

For Bell, the first set loss was motivating. Fisher made the tactical change of moving Bell from her normal position on the left to the right side. This helped the team surge to a 25-17 set win.

Despite this momentum, Pitt went on to lose the next two sets with scores of 25-22 and 25-18.

Orchard said the team mostly suffered from mental issues.

“I think we need to clean up our errors and we’ll be right there with them,” she said.

Fisher said the team had “better serving as the week went on” and good ball control. He still wanted to address the team’s outside hitters.

“We need to get a little more consistent with our [pin-hitters] if we want to beat Top 25 teams,” Fisher said.

Pitt’s only other ranked opponent so far this season was No. 5 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won the match 3-1 on Aug. 29. The next ranked opponent on their schedule is No. 19 Florida State on Oct. 30.

The Panthers will have a chance to brush aside their past errors in their next game, a home match against Bowling Green on Sept. 18.

The match starts at 7 p.m. at the Fitzgerald Field House.

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Pitt volleyball goes 2-1 in Michigan Challenge over weekend