Volleyball splits weekend, drops first home match of season

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Volleyball splits weekend, drops first home match of season

Mariah Bell serves the ball against Syracuse Sunday afternoon.  Dagmar Seppala | Staff Photographer

Mariah Bell serves the ball against Syracuse Sunday afternoon. Dagmar Seppala | Staff Photographer

Mariah Bell serves the ball against Syracuse Sunday afternoon. Dagmar Seppala | Staff Photographer

Mariah Bell serves the ball against Syracuse Sunday afternoon. Dagmar Seppala | Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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With only four more conference games left when it entered the weekend, Pitt volleyball’s most impressive resumé chip for the NCAA Tournament was its undefeated home record — but now, that mark has one Orange blemish.

The Panthers faced Boston College (11-17) Friday and Syracuse (20-7) Sunday in two matches at the Fitzgerald Field House. Pitt beat both of these teams on the road earlier this season and came in expecting wins, but split the weekend by beating Boston College 3-0 and losing to Syracuse 3-1, bringing its home record this year to 12-1.

Despite some sloppy play and lapses in defensive intensity, Pitt still swept the visiting Eagles.

To start the match, the Panthers jumped on the Eagles and took a 12-4 lead with senior middle hitter Amanda Orchard leading the charge, hitting four kills during that stretch.

“I think we were really going for it and being aggressive offensively,” Orchard said.

From that point, the Panthers maintained at least a four-point lead throughout the course of the set and finished it with a 25-20 win.

Pitt’s offense made effective and precise hits to pull away early. Despite not recording a single block in the set, the Panthers hit .452 compared to .303 for the Eagles.

After a dominating first set performance, the Eagles responded and forced a more competitive second frame. The two teams traded points until they were knotted up at 17 apiece. After a Panther timeout, Pitt won eight out of the next 12 points to take the set 25-21.

The Panthers elevated their defensive intensity to maintain their lead, as they recorded 5.5 blocks in the set. The Eagles had no answer to sophomore Mariah Bell and graduate transfer Kadi Kullerkann, who had six and five kills, respectively.

Pitt struggled to put away Boston College in the final set of the match thanks to its sloppy play, as it hit its lowest percentage of the match at .233. Still, the Panthers held on long enough to close out the Eagles 25-23 in the set for a 3-0 match win.

The win continued Pitt’s home winning streak this season, but two days later, Syracuse put an end to that mark.

When the Panthers squared off against Syracuse in a Sunday matinee match, the Orange (11-6) only sat one notch below the Panthers (12-5) in the ACC standings. The match had important conference and NCAA tournament implications, as both teams have been jockeying for position in the ACC for the last couple of weeks.

To start the first set, the Orange came out firing to a 12-4 lead with strong attacks.

The Panthers responded with an 8-1 run of their own, but could not maintain the comeback. They lost five of the next six points by making errors and eventually went on to lose the set 25-19.

Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said his Panthers focused their play in the second set on containing Syracuse’s talented outside hitters.

“I think we started forcing our will on them a little bit at the net,” Fisher said.

After maintaining a slight lead throughout the set, Pitt won four of the last five points to close out Syracuse 25-20.

From here, the two teams played a pretty even third set. Syracuse surged to win six out of seven points when down 20-19 to take the frame 25-21.

The teams traded points throughout the set, but Syracuse’s attack made the difference. The Orange hit .364 in the set compared to .263 for the Panthers.

The fourth and final set was a close, defensive struggle for the Panthers. Syracuse’s Silvi Uattara led with 10 kills while hitting .421. Despite this, Pitt kept the set very close thanks to strong play from middle hitters Orchard and Jenna Potts.

The two each had five kills in the set, and Potts reached a career-high 14 kills for the match. She said part of her success came from Syracuse’s isolation formations.

“A lot of times I just had a single blocker against me,” Potts said.

Syracuse eventually edged its way to a 24-22 lead with a match point to take the match. Behind thundering cheers from the home crowd, the Panthers rattled off three straight points to take a 25-24 lead and earn a match point of their own.

In response, the Orange rebounded and won three consecutive points to win the set 28-26 and the match 3-1. The loss now pulls the Orange even with the Panthers in the ACC with matching 12-6 records. Moreover, Pitt’s 12-match home winning streak came to an end, with only two more home matches left to play in the regular season.

The first of those matches comes Wednesday when Pitt hosts Virginia Tech at 6 p.m.

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