Pitt volleyball sweeps Panther Invitational, moves to 10-2


Senior Jenna Potts made the 2016 Preseason All-ACC Volleyball Team. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

By Jessie Wallace / Staff Writer

Call this weekend the debut of the “Kullerkann and Potts Show.”

Pitt volleyball hosted the Panther Invitational on Sept. 18 and 19, during which Kadi Kullerkann and Jenna Potts led a Panther sweep of the tournament. The team advanced to a 10-2 record as it topped Bowling Green, Lehigh and George Washington University at the Fitzgerald Field House. The tournament MVP was redshirt junior middle hitter Potts, while graduate transfer hitter Kullerkann had a 21-kill game against GW to wrap up a dominant weekend. For comparison, redshirt senior Taylor Louis of Marquette University — who is leading the nation in kills — averages roughly 15 per game.

Kullerkann’s performance drew praise from Pitt head coach Dan Fisher.

“I think if she plays the way she did tonight, we’ll be more than all right,” Fisher said. “She’s a big part of this team, we need her to carry a big offensive load, and she’s been doing that.”

Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Bell and junior outside hitter Maria Genitsaridi both made the all-tournament team with Potts, helping to lead a dominant weekend for Pitt.

Fisher said focusing on the team’s offensive strategies during the week’s practices gave the Panthers a strong base.

“At the end of the day, I think we were able to out-offense other teams,” Fisher said. “We ended up hitting close to .300 [hitting percentage] on the tournament, so I think it was good to see our work on our offense be executed.”

Pitt senior Amanda Orchard started the first game of the weekend against the Bowling Green Falcons (3-7) with two quick kills from the middle, putting the Panthers at an early 2-0 lead. Though the Falcons tied the game at 14, a pair of kills by Orchard and sophomore middle blocker Kelsey O’Neill let the Panthers claim their first set victory of the tournament, 25-21.

Redshirt freshman libero Angela Seman fueled the Panthers’ second set victory with an impressive defensive effort — Seman racked up seven digs and helped lead Pitt to a 25-20 win.

Although they dropped the third set to the Falcons, the Panthers came back to win 24-18 in the fourth set. Despite the one set loss, Potts said the team’s strong mindset helped keep them focused.

“It was our toughness,” Potts said. “Whenever we were down, we fought back and that was really important.”

Game two against Lehigh (7-4) was a challenge, but the Panthers conquered in four sets.    

A kill by Orchard and back-to-back slams by Kullerkann opened up the game as the Panthers took an early 3-1 start. Afterward, it was close with five lead changes until Pitt gained some momentum and stormed ahead to a 25-21 win.

“It was our toughness. Whenever we were down, we fought back and that was really important.”

Kullerkann knew staying calm and committing to the team’s strategy would help the team succeed in moments of uncertainty.

“I think we really stuck to our game plan,” Kullerkann said.  “We really kept pressure on all of our opponents. We had a little roller coaster once in awhile, but we ended up being on top every time, so I think we pushed well.”

The second set was a smoother ride. Orchard’s kill sparked the team into action and Pitt rolled on with a 25-19 victory over the Hawks.

The third set was decided halfway through when the Hawks made a 3-0 run, which forced Pitt to call a timeout. The Panthers could not regroup in time, and Lehigh won 22-25.

Pitt rebounded in the fourth set. The Panthers never trailed in the game and cruised over the Hawks 25-18 for their second win of the weekend.

Kullerkann shined brightest in the final game against George Washington (6-4).

While the Colonials proved tough, both Kullerkann and Potts’ offensive and defensive tenacity shut the Atlantic 10 team down in an exciting four-set series.

In the course of tallying 21 kills, Kullerkann also hit a whopping .472. Potts backed her up with eight kills, and the team had  23 blocks overall.

For Pitt to compete with top schools in the ACC, Kullerkann said the team needs to dominate from the beginning of its matches.

“We’ve been starting pretty slow in the last few games,” the graduate transfer said. “I think if we get our intensity up and play like it’s 24-24 from the first point, that will do it.”

The team heads into conference play on Sept. 25, when it takes on North Carolina State at home. Since this is her final season with the team, Kullerkann has high expectations.

“We’ve done great things, every single person has shown what they can do, and I’m really excited to head into conference [play] and see what we accomplish this year,” Kullerkann said.

Despite never having a match go to a fifth set, Fisher is confident the team will be prepared for its conference matchup against NC State (11-1).

“We play in a really tough conference so we’re preparing for a lot of five-set matches, ones that we’re going to have to get ourselves in position to win,” Fisher said. “We’re going to have to be a tough team.”

Tipoff against NC State is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, at the Fitzgerald Field House.