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Pitt volleyball wins two road ACC matches

Kadi+Kullerkann+winds+up+for+a+spike.++Jeff+Ahearn+%7C+Assistant+Visual+Editor
Kadi Kullerkann winds up for a spike.  Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Kadi Kullerkann winds up for a spike. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Kadi Kullerkann winds up for a spike. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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Losing can either send a team into a spiral or provide motivation to improve — this weekend, Pitt volleyball coach Dan Fisher made sure it was the latter.

After dropping two tough matches in Virginia last weekend, Fisher’s team bounced back with two road wins at Syracuse and Boston College.

Pitt’s first match of the weekend was on Friday at Syracuse (13-4, 4-2 ACC), followed by a televised match on Sunday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, against Boston College (9-9, 1-5 ACC). Both opponents were important conference wins for the Panthers following the two losses from the weekend prior.

Against Syracuse, the Panthers (14-4, 4-2 ACC) faced a team that had won seven of its last eight matches.

Sloppy play highlighted the first set. Each squad only had nine kills and hit below .200, but the Panthers had 12 errors compared to four for the Orange.

After Pitt jumped out to a 5-3 lead, Syracuse won the next six points, four of which came from Pitt errors. From that point, the Orange pulled away to earn a 25-16 first set win.

“The truth is we came out soft and they were really efficient offensively. It was a completely one-sided game,” said Fisher, who added that he challenged his team after that start.

The Panthers responded and turned things around, improving their attack by almost .500 in the second set. Syracuse also improved its attack by .200 to try to keep pace with Pitt.

Things got dicey in the second set when Syracuse pulled within one point at 20-19, but Pitt answered, winning five of the next six points to take the frame 25-20.

The third set ended with the same score as the second, but play was decidedly more in the Panthers’ favor. Pitt never lost control after grabbing an early 3-2 lead. It extended the gap by as much as eight points and eventually grabbed a 25-20 set win.

After the teams traded points for the majority of set four, Syracuse won a rare two consecutive points to grab a 19-17 lead. Pitt responded to an Orange service error by winning seven of the next nine points to take the third set 25-21 and the match 3-1.

Graduate transfer outside hitter Kadi Kullerkann dominated the match, racking up 22 kills after a slow first set. She attributed her and the team’s turnaround to controlling the game with tempo and accuracy.

“In the first set, we let them play with us,” she said. “After the first set, we played our game.”

In the second match of the weekend against Boston College, the Panthers jumped out to a fast start in the first set with a 9-2 lead. Pitt kept the lead the entire way and closed it off with a kill from Kullerkann to win 25-21.

The second set played out similarly to the first with the Panthers taking an early lead, this time at 13-6. Boston College rebounded to pull within one at 23-22. Pitt won two of the next three points to take it to 25-23.

Senior middle hitter Amanda Orchard said the team won by staying relaxed.

“We didn’t freak out. We were very calm and knew we just needed to get the next point,” she said.

The third and final set kept the pattern of the previous two with the Panthers taking an early lead. They started out winning 5-0 only to have the Eagles rebound and capture the lead at 11-9.

The Panthers gradually regained the advantage and never let it go. They went up 16-14 and never had a lead less than two points until they later won the set 25-22.

Pitt had a three-headed attack in the match with Mariah Bell, Orchard and Kullerkann each with 10 or more kills. The trio helped keep the Eagles off balance by not allowing them to focus on just one offensive force throughout the match.

In a bounce-back weekend the Panthers desperately needed, Orchard said, “There’s a lot to lose, so we have to go after each point like it’s our last.”

The Panthers will try to maintain their strong play for home matches on Friday and Sunday against Georgia Tech and Clemson, respectively. Friday’s match starts at 7 p.m.

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Pitt volleyball wins two road ACC matches