The Pitt News

Pitt volleyball focusing internally in advance of Panther Invitational

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Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By David Leftwich / For The Pitt News

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Pitt volleyball will face three Division I opponents this weekend in the Panther Invitational — but the Panthers are their own biggest adversaries during the upcoming slate of games.

After a successful 2-1 performance last weekend in which the Panthers’ only loss was a closely contested battle to No. 24 Michigan Wolverines, the Panthers still need to up the level of their play and grab three non-conference wins this weekend to establish momentum before conference play.

Even with strong play this season, the Panthers have had trouble putting all of the pieces together on a consistent basis, according to head coach Dan Fisher. Their inconsistency has been in part because of uneven play from their outside hitters.

“We’re spending a lot of time focusing on our pin hitters, and we think we need our outside hitters to hit for a higher percentage,” Fisher said. “Our drills are pretty focused around them getting a lot of swings.”

The team is back home for its invitational, facing Bowling Green, Lehigh and George Washington in matches spanning Friday and Saturday at the Fitzgerald Field House.

The competition this weekend is weaker than the likes of the South Carolina and Michigan squads that Pitt faced last weekend in Michigan, but the Panthers are focused on avoiding self-inflicted mistakes.

“We’re trying to work a lot on risk management,” senior setter Jenna Jacobson said. “Keeping the ball playable and obviously if it’s there, crushing it.”

In terms of personnel, the team needs to revamp its offense, following the loss of starting freshman outside hitter Stephanie Williams to a broken foot.

The first of these moves was transitioning sophomore Kelsey O’Neill from middle to the right side hitter.

“I want to work on my transition from a middle to right side and really make sure that’s sound before the games start up,” O’Neill said.

The Panthers have emphasized improving their offensive flow to regain some of the production they are losing from Williams. In practice, Jacobson said the team worked on gaining “more kills from our hitters.”

A 3-7 Bowling Green squad will be Pitt’s first competition of the weekend. That record doesn’t fully indicate their talent level, though, as the Falcons have a signature win against ACC opponent Notre Dame.

Fisher is not overlooking any of the teams this weekend.

“We know that on paper all of them are good teams,” he said.

Lehigh, Pitt’s second match of the weekend, has a strong record of 7-4 against smaller, less prominent schools than the ACC competition.

The third match, against George Washington, looks to be the toughest of the weekend because of the Colonels’ strong 6-4 record and a win against ACC opponent Maryland. The Colonels also lost in a 3-2 effort to the No. 19 ranked Oregon Ducks.

Fisher agreed that George Washington is the toughest matchup on paper, attributing this to some exposure he had to them in a spring exhbition against the Panthers.

“I know they have a middle and a right side that are extremely physical,” he recalled. “They have a middle that is getting four kills a set.”

Jacobson said the Panthers need to be on high alert for their competition at the invitational.

“They’re all good teams, and they’re scrappy,” Jacobson said. “So we have to make sure we’re playing good defense and getting all of their junk and just sticking to Pitt volleyball.”

Despite the hurdles the Panthers must overcome, the team is focused on their own challenges and are prepared to reap the benefits of home court.

“The energy we have just being around home [is an advantage],” O’Neill said. “We have a mission, and we know what we need to focus on.”

The Panther Invitational begins for Pitt with a 7 p.m. matchup against Bowling Green on Friday, followed by contests on Saturday against Lehigh and George Washington at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. All matches will take place at the Fitzgerald Field House.

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Pitt volleyball focusing internally in advance of Panther Invitational