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Pitt volleyball continues strong home play with weekend wins

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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There’s just something about the Fitz.

No matter who has come to play the Pitt volleyball team at the Fitzgerald Field House, the Panthers have come out victorious this season.

The Panthers kept that winning streak alive with two quality wins this weekend against ACC opponents Florida State and Miami on Friday and Sunday. Each opponent ranked ahead of the Panthers and were in the top 40 in the nation.

To start the weekend, Pitt squared off against a No. 15 Florida State team that entered the night with 10 consecutive wins and a 10-0 mark in the ACC.

Pitt started off the match strong, sprinting to a 12-7 lead. The Panthers kept Florida State’s offense off balance, helping the hosts maintain a healthy gap of at least five points throughout the rest of the set.

Besides keeping the Seminole offense in check at .061 percent hitting, the Panthers orchestrated a solid offense. Senior middle hitter Amanda Orchard led the Panthers to a 25-14 set win with five kills.

Florida State came out in the second frame and played more efficient offense, forcing the Panthers to tighten their defensive effort. Their strong blocking kept Florida State’s offense from fully clicking and helped Pitt take the second set 25-23.

Orchard credited the team’s defense with the crucial stops to win the first couple sets.

“Our defense really came to play this weekend,” she said.

The Seminoles did not go down quietly, pushing the Panthers to the brink in a highly contested third set.

The frame was back and forth for its entirety, particularly when the Seminoles had two match points at 24-23 and 25-24. Sophomore outside hitter Mariah Bell responded with a kill each time to keep the Panthers alive. Pitt ended up pulling out a 28-26 third set win to sweep the match 3-0.

“Everyone was being loud and positive on the court,” said Bell, who recorded 16 kills in the Friday match. “We looked like we were having fun, so that motivated me to play hard.”

Pitt aimed for the undefeated weekend on Sunday when it hosted a 14-6 Miami Hurricanes squad.

Miami started the match evenly playing the Panthers. The back and forth scoring continued until the Panthers racked up five straight points to take a 14-9 lead. From there, Pitt maintained an edge through the rest of the set and closed out the Hurricanes to win 25-23.

In the second set, Pitt ramped up its offensive efficiency, hitting better than .100 percent for the set while Miami stayed at an attacking efficiency similar to that of their first set. This propelled Pitt to an early 5-0 lead.

The Panthers extended the lead to as much as 10 points. Graduate transfer Kadi Kullerkann led the way with five kills en route to a 25-20 second set win.

While points of the match featured stretches of sloppy play from both sides, Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said his team’s seniors can carry the team out of slumps.

“It is a challenge,” Fisher said. “We have a really incredible group of seniors, so it doesn’t take much for me because our seniors are really driving that bus.”

The third set got pretty tight when Pitt held a one point lead at 23-22, but from there, Kullerkann hit two kills to end the match for a 3-0 Pitt win.

The weekend could give the Panthers’ NCAA tournament aspirations a major boost.

“We know we have a little buffer now and are not in a position where we need to win out,” Fisher said. “We just need to play good volleyball.”

The Panthers will try to maintain their strong play as they travel to Louisville on Friday for a 7 p.m. matchup.

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Pitt volleyball continues strong home play with weekend wins