WVB Sweet 16 Bound

Our women’s volleyball team is set, for the third year in a row, a third-round Sweet Sixteen match in the NCAA tournament with their victory over BYU this past Saturday.  They along with that other Pennsylvania school, Penn State, will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, the home of the Badgers, to play their next matches.  Pitt and Louisville are the only two ACC teams that made it to the Sweet Sixteen this year.

#2 Pitt will play #3 Florida at 3:30 PM on Thursday, December 8th.  #1 Wisconsin will play #4 Penn State in the following match at 6:00 PM.  Both matches will be on ESPNU.  In case you are hoping for a Penn State win, that is highly unlikely as the Badgers downed the Lions 3-0 at Madison in September and 3-2 in State College in November in their two matchups this year.

Before we discuss Florida, I want to introduce another statistic to my analysis and then briefly discuss the BYU victory.

The new statistic is points per set by a player.  A player awarded one point for a kill, an ace, a single block, and 0.5 for a block assist.  It a very good indicator on how valuable a player is to a team.  Pitt’s season leaders for the season in this statistic are as follows:

Courtney Buzzerio 4.30
Valeria Vazquez Gomez 2.96
Serena Gray 2.85
Julianna Dalton 2.67
Chiamaka Nwokolo 2.03,
Rachel Fairbanks 1.64.

The ACC leader this year in this statistic was Julia Bergmann of Georgia Tech with 5.86 points/set.

The ease of the Pitt second round win over BYU was a pleasant surprise to me given the circumstances.  A gritty Pitt team defeated a much taller BYU team in a surprising three set sweep.  Pitt played the match without 6’5” OH Julianne Dalton.  We used Cam Ennis in her place.

Our Panthers played a fairly error free game and kept BYU out of system with our serves most of the match.  The only stat that Pitt lost was blocks by a 9-3 margin.  If you were cringing during the many times Pitt had a front line of 6’0” Cam Ennis, 6’1” Chiamaka Nwokolo, and 6’0” Rachel Fairbanks facing a much taller BYU front row during the match, you were not alone!  That was one of the main reasons we did not win the block stat.

Pitt won the match on the back of three main players along with very good defensive play on the back row by libero Emmy Klika and defensive specialist Ashley Browske.  Pitt’s three main players were Courtney Buzzerio with 23 total points or 7.67 pts./set, Rachel Fairbanks with 11 points or 3.67 pts./set, and Valeria Vazquez Gomez with 10 points or 3.33 pts./set.  Coach Fisher in addition to a great game plan for the match also deserves credit for two points won on challenges, one at a crucial moment in the second set.

Rachel Fairbanks had Pitt’s first ever triple-double in a NCAA tournament match with 10 kills, 28 assists, and 13 digs.  Rachel should have been on the All ACC first team and not on the second team!  The reason she did not was the importance of a setter in a 5-1 system versus a 6-2 system which Pitt uses.

Continue reading “WVB Sweet 16 Bound”

It’s Portal Mania Day

Should have posted a new article this morning when I wished everyone a Happy Portal Day. Went outside around 9:30am and came in around 1:15PM. and 55 new comments had been made.

I will try to remember to post a new article in April when the second Happy Portal Day occurs.

To catch up on the portal discussions, please read the 12/5/22 comments in the prior article.

Pitt vs BYU Round 2 in the 2’nd Round

Another excellent article by my fellow South Carolinian John Demko (John in South Carolina).

Pitt’s 2nd round opponent in the tournament this year is BYU which defeated James Madison in the 1st round.  Pitt is 2-1 all-time versus BYU.  Pitt has played them once this year and once last year.  Last year Pitt defeated BYU at the Fitz 3-1.  That was BYU’s only regular season loss in 2021.  This year Pitt played BYU at their facility.  Below is my summary of the match posted on the blog.

“On Saturday evening the BYU’s gym was packed for the match against Pitt.  To be successful against BYU Pitt had to press them at the net and keep them out of system.  Pitt did exactly that and defeated BYU 3-1.  Pitt also played great back row defense led by Browske with 17 digs followed closely by Fairbanks with 16.  Fairbanks had one of her double doubles as she had 30 assists followed by Cam Ennis with 23.  This defeat ended BYU’s home 30-match home win streak that went back to 2019.”

In the match Pitt hit 0.260 versus BYU .260.  Pitt out blocked BYU 12-10 as well as out hit them 61 to 59.  Akeo did not play in the match.  Vazquez Gomez led the Panthers in kills with 16 followed by Buzzerio with 15 and Dalton with 12.  Livingston led BYU with 20 kills followed by Llarenas with 10 and Gneiting with 9.

BYU went on to a 21-6 regular season record.  Their other losses were to Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Pacific, and twice to San Diego.  BYU only won one set overall against San Diego and were swept by both Georgia Tech and Ohio State.  As a reminder, Pitt defeated Georgia Tech twice and swept Ohio State.  We lost our 1st match of the season to San Diego in 5 sets.

BYU overall is hitting 0.297 versus their opponents 0.178.  They have 135 serve aces versus 167 serve errors.  They have 2.41 blocks per set and 13.42 digs per set.

BYU runs a 5-1 offense.  This means their setter will be on the front line 3 of the 6 rotations.  It also means their middles will slide to either corner to attack some of the time.  Both of BYU setters are 5’9” which is on the small side.

BYU has only one main outside hitter.  She is #10 6’2” junior Erin Livingston who leads the team in kills with 404.  The next best kill total for an outside is 124.  Erin is also a six-rotation player.  BYU strength is their middles.  Their primary middle is #2 6’5” senior Heather Gneiting who is second on the team in kills with 229 to go along with her team leading 122 blocks at a 1.22 blocks per set pace.  BYU second middle is #21 6’3” sophomore Whitney Llarenas.  She has 207 kills to go along with her 88 blocks at a 0.96 blocks per set.  Either due to injury or just because she is a better overall player than BYUs outside hitters, BYU has been using a third middle blocker lately in their matches.  She is #1 6’4” freshman Kate Prior.  She did not play against Pitt earlier this year.

BYU placed four players on the first team All-West Coast Conference team.  They are Livingston, Gneiting, Llarenas, and #7 5’9” senior setter Whitney Bower.  BYU also had two honorable mentions in #16 5’8” graduate student libero Kelsey Knudsen and Prior.  Prior also was named to the All-freshman team.

What are the keys to defeating BYU?  BYU’s only attackers are their middles and Livingston.   When Livingston is in the back row, attack her with the serves and kills from the front of the net to wear her down.  When she is in the front, press her at the net.  Buzzerio should be able to handle her one on one.

When the BYU setter is at the net, there are only two attackers on the front line.  Pitt’s outsides need to pinch in when the BYU middle stays home and attacks from the middle.  When the BYU middle slides, our middle needs to move with her.

When Pitt is attacking and the BYU setter is on the net, attack over the setter.  We have a big height advantage.  Make the BYU middle blockers move a lot laterally at the net.  Pitt needs to also move the ball from corner to corner on the net to prevent the middles from cheating to one side all the time.  If I was BYU, I would cheat my middles to Buzzerio’s side when she is on the front line.  This means more of the scoring burden will fall on Vazquez Gomez and Dalton from either the left side or the back row.  To keep the BYU’s middles honest, we also need to attack quickly in the middle as we usually do.  One on one, BYU’s middles will be more of a problem as they are big and athletic.

I see this match going to four or five sets with Pitt winning the match.  All sets will be decided by five points or less.

Due to the quick turnaround between rounds, my comments about Pitt’s 1st round match will be in the comments.