Here is a wonderful bit of reporting (!) from our friend Annie.
Last night Pitt women’s volleyball played Long Island University (LIU) in the first round of the NCAA Championships held in Omaha. LIU received their bid by default of their opponent in the NEC championship game. LIU is a very young team, with two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and six freshmen. Based on that fact alone, we would expect Pitt to win easily. Pitt won the match 3-0, but it did not look good during the first set.
Set 1: Pitt has a habit of starting out slowly in the first set of their matches, and they followed that pattern again last night. With Kayla Lund at the service line, Pitt took a 6-0 lead to start the match. I was thinking- ‘great, this will be a cake walk’. Yeah, no. The score quickly became 7-5, and I started to get nervous. Pitt was playing out of system, scrambling after balls, missing blocks, and committing hitting errors. Bad passing is usually the main cause of playing out of system.
With the score 11-9 (Pitt), Pitt took a time out. That’s pretty early in the set to do that, and it was badly needed. Hitting and blocking errors continued, and LIU went on a 10-5 run. With the score 15-13 (LIU), Pitt took another time out. I had visions of a first round upset- there had been several already earlier in the day.
Pitt tied the score at 15, then down 15-16, finally went on a 7-0 run to make it 22-16. LIU came back to make it 22-20, then tied the score at 23. Oh no… upset watch begins.
But then Lund gets a kill to get Pitt to set point 24-23. LIU ties it at 24, then Lund gets two consecutive kills to give Pitt the 1st set win 26-24. It should have never been that close. During the set Pitt had 17 kills and hit .156 (a low percentage for success). LIU had 11 kills and hit .154. We needed to do better than that to advance past the 2nd round.
Set 2: Pitt substituted 6’5” Middle hitter Anastasia Russ in for Jordan Lockwood, who hit a negative % in the first set. She quickly gets two kills and two blocks. The team looks energized. Pitts races out to a 10-4 lead, which causes LIU to call T.O. Pitt serving specialist Zoi Faki serves the score to 15-5 causing LIU to use their second T.O.
At 20-10, freshman Cat Flood comes in to serve, which is always a good sign that the coach feels comfortable getting a young player some important playing time. Pitt is really moving well now- the players are blocking and diving for balls. I noted that sophomore Chiamaka Nwokolo was really playing well during this set. Pitt wins set 2 by the score 25-11. Pitt hit .579 with 12 kills for the set, LIU -0.088 on 7 kills.
THAT is what Pitt needs to do to advance! Pitt took total control of the game, and looked like the team we all know they can be.
Set 3: Starts badly, with both team committing service errors (ugh). Russ is in the front line again, with senior captain Chinaza Ndee, Valeria Vazquez Gomez, and then Nwokolo after Ndee rotates out. Pitt goes ahead 9-3 with Kayla Lund more of a presence this set. Blocking was improved too.
LIU wins a challenge to make the score 14-7; at 19-7 there was a really good volley but Pitt lost the point. I can still appreciate the total team effort to keep the ball in play. Pitt lost a challenge at 19-9, but went on to close out the set 25-10 and win the match 3-0. For the set Pitt hit .500 with 13 kills, LIU hit .211 on five kills. With the exception of Set 1 it was a dominating performance.
Lund finished the match with nine kills, nine digs, two service aces and hit .368. Chinaza Ndee had 11 kills, five blocks and hit .333, Chiamaka Nwokolo had six kills, five blocks and hit a scorching .750. Middle hitter Sabrina Starks had four kills, three blocks, two service aces and hit .333.
Valeria Vazquez Gomez had seven kills, four digs and hit .190, and Anastasia Russ had four kills, three blocks and hit 1.000. Not bad for her first playoff game! Both setters had 17 assists each, and totaled 15 digs. LIU’s best hitter had 10 kills and hit .147.
Going forward Pitt needs to have more Set 2 and Set 3-like performances and eliminate the poor play in Set 1. They have so many hitting options, and that is what may give them an advantage over Utah. Because so many of the Panthers play well, it makes it difficult for opponents to set their lineup to stop Lund or Ndee. They may stop one of them, but the rest of the lineup is strong enough to carry their share of the load. The game finished after midnight.
Tonight’s game vs. Utah is on at 10:30 pm again. I hope the players take a good nap beforehand so they are ready to go at the first serve. H2P!
(Editor’s Note: Here is the complete game on ESPN video)
Again – thanks Annie.