Volleyball: Anticipation builds for home tournament


By Caitlin Hinsey / Staff Writer

The Pitt women’s volleyball team will play its first official home matches this weekend as the Panthers host the Pitt Panther Invitational. The Panthers (7-3) welcome Cornell, Rutgers and Morehead State to the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse.

Pitt plays its first match of the invitational Friday morning against Cornell (2-4). Later, Pitt takes on Rutgers (3-8) in the last match of the day. 

Pitt plays its third and final match on Saturday against Morehead State (6-4).

The Panthers are looking to get their first win on their home court. The Panthers have yet to play an official game in the Fitzgerald Field House, as their only home match so far this season was an exhibition game against Dabrowa, a professional Polish team. 

“We are all really excited to be at home,” junior setter Lindsey Zitzke said. “We get all of our friends and family there to come support us, so it’ll be really good for us. Another big step.”

Pitt has had a week off since it played at the USF Invitational, at which the team went 2-1. The Panthers’ only loss came against No. 22 Purdue.

The Panthers’ first opponent of their tournament, Cornell, is looking to bring its record to within one game of .500. Of the four teams participating in the Pitt Panther Invitational, Cornell is the team with the least amount of experience in the 2013 season.

Though it has a losing record, Cornell has been a competitive team in every match. Cornell’s biggest point difference in a loss — 11 points — was in the Big Red’s first match of the season versus Buffalo. Since then, they’ve seemed to find a way to be successful on the court.

This success can be attributed to the emerging leaders on the team. Senior outside hitter Kelly Marble and sophomore right-side hitter Breanna Wong are first and second, respectively, on the team leaderboard in kills. Marble has 76 kills in six matches and Wong has recorded 74.

Freshman setter and right-side hitter Alyssa Phelps is also making an impact for Cornell. The young player is the starting setter and has been living up to the responsibilities of her job. Phelps has tallied 217 assists in six starts.

Pitt’s second opponent is a familiar team. Pitt and Rutgers were former rival members of the now-defunct Big East Conference.

Pitt’s last matchup against Rutgers occured last season. The match went to five sets, with the Panthers winning the decisive fifth set 15-11.

This match could be a repeat of last season’s, as both teams still posess the majority of last year’s teams. For the young Rutgers squad, there isn’t a player more important than sophomore outside hitter Alex Lassa.

Lassa is a key player for Rutgers both offensively and defensively. Lassa has tallied 169 kills this season — double the amount of the next-closest Rutgers player — and leads the team in points scored. Defensively, Lassa is second in digs with 122.

The Panthers’ final opponent, Morehead State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, is another strong opponent. Morehead State is currently on a two-game winning streak and looks to remain above the .500 level.

Morehead State’s top player is sophomore outside hitter Courtney Smith. Smith is one of the top players in the kills category, having 91 so far. Smith also leads Morehead State with 15 service aces.

Pitt will look to defeat its three opponents this week by relying on its key players.

Offensively, the Panthers will rely on junior opposite Kate Yeazel and junior outside hitter Jessica Wynn to lead the team in kills at the net. Defensively, Pitt will look for junior libero Delaney Clesen to continue her outstanding season, hopefully adding more digs to her already team-leading total of 159.

“We’re just going to take it game by game, and hopefully make baby steps and continue to do well,” Zitzke said.