Volleyball: Panthers enter conference match in midst of slump

Volleyball: Panthers enter conference match in midst of slump

By Caitlin Hinsey / Staff Writer

The Pitt women’s volleyball team looks to snap a three-game losing streak against Maryland, as the Panthers are in search for their first ACC win since defeating Boston College on Oct. 18 at Fitzgerald Field House.

“[We’re looking forward] to really winning as many games as we can,” senior Kate Yeazel said of her expectations for the second half of the season after the Boston College match. “We had a few losses that we maybe shouldn’t have had.”

But the losses continued, and Pitt has gone into a tailspin since then.

The Panthers have struggled to win in their new conference recently. Pitt started the season strongly with three consecutive conference wins, but has since lost six of seven games to put them below .500 in the conference for the first time this season.

Now Pitt (12-11, 4-6 ACC) will look to right the ship Wednesday at 7 p.m. against a Maryland team that has experienced its own ACC struggles. Maryland (11-11, 3-7 ACC) has lost two straight games to conference opponents and is looking to snap its own losing streak. This game will be the Panthers’ third on the road this week.

The Panthers and the Terrapins appear to be equally pegged on paper. Aside from their record, the teams have struggled against the same opponents. The last two matches for both Pitt and Maryland were against No. 14 North Carolina and North Carolina State. Pitt lost 3-1 and 3-2, respectively, while Maryland dropped the games, 3-2 and 3-1, respectively.

But in the Panthers’ last two losses, they were able to showcase a few bright spots.

In the match against North Carolina, junior outside hitter Jessica Wynn had a team-best 15 kills and a .625 hitting percentage individually, but the team only hit .172. Wynn also did not commit an attack error throughout the entire match. 

Sophomore setter Jenna Jacobson led the team in assists with 23, and junior libero Delaney Clesen had 12 digs. Redshirt freshman middle blocker KeKe Irby had five of Pitt’s eight blocks.

Defensively, the Panthers have improved throughout the season. Against North Carolina State, Pitt recorded a season-high 76 digs and logged 18 blocks, with redshirt freshman middle blocker Jenna Potts notching 10. Irby chipped in seven blocks to the team total, which also marked a season high for Pitt.

Service from the Panthers’ has also marked the more successful times of this season. 

Junior setter Lindsey Zitzke has a team-leading 32 aces on serves, with 17 of those coming against ACC opponents. Jacobson has also provided exceptional serving, posting 30 aces that put her at a close second on the team. She recorded four service aces in the last two matches.

Pitt hasn’t faced the Terrapins since 2005 — a match that resulted in a Pitt loss in three sets. Overall, the Panthers have had more success in meetings between the two schools, holding a 12-9 advantage over Maryland.

This season the Panthers have had a tough time finding success on the road. That trend may follow them to College Park, Md., where they own a 1-4 all-time record. 

The Panthers will look to add another win to their 2-5 road record, but Maryland has excelled at home, going 9-3 at the Comcast Center. Maryland’s three home losses have all come against ACC opponents.

Before the beginning of this season, the Terps had two players voted to the preseason All-ACC team: junior outside hitter Ashleigh Crutcher and junior middle blocker Adreene Elliott. The two have justified their selections: Elliott has tallied 236 kills and 71 blocks, giving her the second-best total in both statistical categories on the team, and has nabbed three All-Tournament selections; Crutcher has tallied 163 kills and 94 digs.

“We really need to focus on winning out [the remainder of the schedule] or winning as many games as we can to focus on our goal of making the NCAA tournament,” Yeazel said on Oct. 18. 

Though the outcome has been bleaker than Yeazel’s wishes, the Panthers can stop the streak against Maryland and inch closer to that goal.