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Pitt volleyball starts ACC slate against red hot North Carolina State, North Carolina

Kadi+Kullerkann+goes+up+to+spike+a+ball.++Jeff+Ahearn+%7C+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Kadi Kullerkann goes up to spike a ball.  Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Kadi Kullerkann goes up to spike a ball. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Kadi Kullerkann goes up to spike a ball. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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Good times never felt so good as the Panthers kick off their ACC schedule with two visits from North Carolina teams.

Pitt volleyball, winner of three straight games, hopes to keep its momentum going as it faces a hot North Carolina State University Wolfpack team, winners of nine in a row.

The Panthers (10-2) have two matches this weekend at the Fitzgerald Field House. The first is Friday at 7 p.m. against NC State (11-1), and the second is against University of North Carolina (3-6), which will take place Sunday at noon.

To prepare for these matches, Pitt wanted to improve on its performance from last weekend, in which it went 3-0. It improved its attacking consistency and had a hitting percentage of more than .300 as a team.

However, redshirt junior middle blocker Jenna Potts knew the team would also have to improve defensively with tough matchups coming up.

“We are still working on risk management, which is what we worked on last week in practice that helped us a lot over the weekend,” Potts said.

The team will need both its offense and defense working harmoniously, as both NC State and UNC have impressive resumés in their own right.

The key to NC State’s nine-game winning streak has been sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Kearney, who led NC State in both kills and blocks as a freshman last season.

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher was impressed by Kearney’s performance last year against Pitt.

“One of the big focuses is [Kearney], who’s one of their best players,” Fisher said. “She gave us fits a year ago, so we want to do a better job against her.”

Kearney had 11 kills and hit .625 against the Panthers last year in their only matchup with the Wolfpack on Nov. 21. Pitt still won 3-0.

Though its record is not as impressive, UNC won’t be an easier opponent than NC State. Potts called the Tar Heels’ schedule one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the country, with seven ranked opponents. UNC played and beat No. 8 Stanford University and also topped No. 22 University of Michigan, which defeated the Panthers 3-1 on Sept. 12.

“I do believe that winning becomes a habit at some level.”

Redshirt freshman libero Angela Seman knows UNC is a  blocking-centric team and that Pitt will need a strong performance to beat the Tar Heels.

“It will have to be a big covering night, and we’ll need smart hitting,” Seman said.

Pitt last played UNC on Oct. 3 last year. The then-No. 12 Tar Heels won the five-set match.

Despite the daunting tasks ahead, the Panthers have internally shifted their focus. They want to completely mesh as a team after losing freshman starting outside hitter Stephanie Williams to a broken foot two weekends ago during the Michigan Challenge.

Last weekend was a start to filling in the void at outside hitter. Sophomore Mariah Bell took the job and had a strong weekend, earning all-tournament honors.

The rest of the team has also adjusted to the change, especially graduate transfer hitter Kadi Kullerkann.

“I think we got [Kullerkann] in a pretty good groove,” Fisher said after her 21-kill performance against George Washington University on Sept. 19, a 3-1 Pitt win.

The non-conference schedule also taught the Panthers some valuable lessons on how to stay mentally prepared for ACC play.

“I think we learned a lot about ourselves,” Potts said. “The games were up and down, and one set we would play amazingly and then the next set not as amazingly, so we just need to worry about ourselves more and maintain that confidence and urgency to win every point.”

Pitt will need this confidence and continued strong play to win both of its matches this weekend, but the team is excited for the challenge. Seman thought the matches were very important to “keep the momentum” of the team.

Fisher said the same.

“I do believe that winning becomes a habit at some level,” Fisher said.

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Pitt volleyball starts ACC slate against red hot North Carolina State, North Carolina