Pitt Volleyball Production Loss – 2021

Here is a great piece written by John Demko (John in South Carolina). He is following Rich and his football production losses by our opponents pieces. Thank you John…and I have to ask our readers ‘Where else can you find Pitt athletics articles with this amount of research and detailed writing from non-professional scribes?’ I’ll answer for you. Nowhere!

Pitt-cocks Fan has been running a series on the production lost from 2021 of the ACC teams along with Pit’s 2022 opponents.  This got me thinking about how much Pitt’s women’s volleyball team lost from the 2021 NCAA semifinalist team.  I knew it would be considerable.  At first glance it appears not only considerable but devastating.

Pitt lost seven players from last year: Kayla Lund, Leketor Member-Meneh, Chinaza Ndee, Kylee Levers, Jordan Lockwood, Anastasia Russ, and Makayla Jackson.  By position we lost four outside hitters, two middle blockers, and one setter.  Two of the outside hitters were six-rotation players.

Kayla Lund was an outstanding four-year starter who was twice named the ACC player of the year.  Last year she was injured on and off all season and had a down year for her.  Leketor Member-Meneh was Pitt’s best player last year and was named MVP of the NCAA Regionals held in Pittsburgh.  Both Kayla and Leketor were the six-rotation players.  Chinaza Ndee was one of our main stays on the front line for the last several years.  Kylee Levers was one of our two main setters for two of the last three years although Rachel Fairbanks displaced her in that role at the end of last season and the playoffs.  All of these players graduated and ran out of eligibility.

Jordan Lockwood played on occasion.  As the year wore on, her playing time decreased.  Jordan entered the transfer portal and in now on the University of Denver roster.  Anastasia Russ, who at 6’-5” tall should have been able to break into the lineup last year but did not, also left via the transfer portal.  She would have been our fourth option at middle blocker this year.  She is now on the Maryland roster where she should see a lot of playing time.  Russ never lived up to her potential here at Pitt.  Makayla Jackson, a third team All American in high school from Plum, did not have any playing time at all last year.  She is not listed on the 2022 roster and is not on any other university’s roster.  She is also a middle blocker who would have mostly sat this year.

Below is a table showing percentage the departing players contributed last year.  Remember Kayla had a down year for her so her loss is not adequately represented by just last year’s numbers.

Ndee, Chinaza380503616794
Levers, Kylee259119204200
Russ, Anastasia15002016
Lockwood, Jordan8360183225
Member-Meneh, Leketor3642230262732549
Jackson, Makayla0000000
Lund, Kayla3375031258477227
Overall Team Total179216711841671224555488
% Lost65.9%40.3%43.5%46.7%54.8%30.9%41.2%

On the offensive side almost two thirds of all kills were lost from last year.  Chinaza was Pitt’s leader in kills followed by Leketor and Kayla.  Of the three players, opponents feared Leketor the most and would place two blockers.  This helps explain why Chinaza was the kill leader.  If only Leketor had been a Panther for four years (heavy sigh)!  Chinaza was our leading outside blocker last year and our second leading blocker overall behind Serena Gray who is a middle blocker.  Another major loss, which surprised a bit, was the loss of serve aces.  Both Leketor and Kayla had about 1/6th of our aces apiece.  Along with Kylee the three of them had over 43% of our aces.

One the defensive side more than half of all the receptions were lost as well.  A reception is the first contact on a serve receive.  Leketor was the main target of the other teams’ servers last year due to their belief she was the weakest link in the back row.  She made great progress on her receiving during her short time with Pitt so by tournament time this was no longer the case.  Kayla also was targeted with the same belief.  Kylee was a backrow setter so it is no surprise for the high number of receptions in her stats.  These three players also had a very large portion of the digs, slightly under 50%.

Based on these stats Pitt’s women’s volleyball team should not be considered the ninth best team in the nation in the early season polls by knowledgeable people.  So why the optimism?

The players that are replacing our departing players are the following based on importance for this coming year:  Courtney Buzzerio, Julianna Dalton, Cam Ennis, Dillyn Griffin, and Rachel Jepsen.  Courtney and Cam only will be with us one year as that is all the eligibility they have left.  Julianna has three years of eligibility.  Dillyn and Rachel are recruits out of high school.  Courtney, Julianna, and Rachel have all joined the team earlier this year and went with them on the European tour.  Cam was a late portal addition so she will be joining the team along with Dillyn when the new school year allows.

By position we gained two outside hitters, one outside hitter/setter, one middle blocker, and one defensive specialist.

Courtney and Cam played last year for Iowa and Texas A&M respectively.  Julianna played for Washington State two years ago as a freshman but sat out last year.  Courtney was first team All-Big Ten two years ago and second team All-Big Ten last year on an awful Iowa team.  Julianna was on the All PAC-12 Freshman team her freshman year.  The stats for these three players’ last year of playing are below.

Buzzerio, Courtney4361930141 042
Iowa Total132324260
Dalton, Julianna1515133109639
Ennis, Cam35361122430016
Incoming Totals6226042398409787
% Replaced52.7%8.9%52.5%51.0%33.3%41.2%43.3%

As can be seen we are replacing about half of our kill losses from last year.  Most of this is coming from Courtney.  Julianna’s numbers should increase dramatically to take up an even greater part of the losses.  The rest will have to come from other players now on the Pitt roster.

Courtney, a 6’-5” outside hitter, had one third of all Iowa’s kills last year.  She was a six-position player who was also a very good server that will help replace the aces lost.  She will probably play six-positions at Pitt this year as well.  Iowa did not publish their reception stats so that is why there is no number for that category.

Julianna, also a 6’-5” outside hitter, is the other reason people are high on Pitt volleyball this year.  She has great potential and has three years of eligibility remaining.

Cam, while listed as an outside hitter/setter, will probably not see much playing time as an outside hitter.  Pitt has better internal options such as Valeria Vazquez Gomez and Cat Flood.  Pitt may also be using one of their middle blockers, Sabrina Starks or Chiamaka Nwokolo on the outside as well this year.  Cam’s main function will be as a reserve setter and a backrow defensive specialist.  Coach Fisher does not want to be in the position he was several years ago having to use Lexis Akeo on the front line as a setter.

So why the optimism for Pitt’s women’s volleyball team this year given all the lost production.  The reasons are as follows.

First the additions of Courtney Buzzerio and Julianna Dalton are seen as excellent replacements for two of the three outside hitters lost.  Pitt’s internal candidates for the third outside position should be adequate.  This is especially important for the second six-position player replacement.

Second, Pitt did not lose any middle blockers of note and are really loaded at this position this year.  We also did not lose any defensive specialists/liberos.

Third, with the development of Rachel Fairbanks, the setter position has actually improved even with the loss of Kylee Levers.

Last and probably most importantly, Coach Fisher and his staff has earned the respect of the volleyball community.  They believe with the additions and the carry over players from last year, Pitt will remain a force to be reckoned with not only in the ACC but on the national level as well.

I will follow-up on this article with one in several week on a more detailed review of this year’s roster, the potential starting line-up, and the 2022 schedule.

2021 Production Loss – Tennessee

The second team on Pitt’s 2022 schedule – the Tennessee Volunteers.

Josh Heupel exceeded all expectations in his first season as HC of the Vols: 7 – 6 (4–4 Conf, 3-1 OOC, 0-1 bowl). Preseason expectation were mainly 5-7 with a few bowl eligible 6-6’s  thrown in. Their biggest victory was a win at Kentucky (10-3) that all but guaranteed a bowl eligible season and  second place finish in the PAC 12  ACC SEC East.

How did they do it – the 2021 schedule and results. Also, the Tennessee 2022 OOC schedule.

Tennessee plays the same OOC scheduling as a vast majority of SEC teams – one P5, two G5, and an FCS opponent. Only Florida and Georgia schedules two P5 consistently. Starting in 2025, Alabama and South Carolina adds a second P5 opponent. Georgia and Florida added a third (or even fourth) P5 team.

All those changes were made for the expansion of the College Football Playoffs (CFP) to either eight or twelve teams. Since no one knew how the CFP was going to pick the additional teams, it was assumed by the SEC that strength of schedule was going to be a determining factor. With ten or eleven P5 opponents, the SEC hoped for three or four teams chosen. It was also a way to get the PAC 12, Big 10 and BIG 12 off their belly aching about the SEC playing nine P5 teams while they normally played ten.

But that scheduling is now endangered. The addition of Oklahoma and Texas in 2024 or 25 may lead to a nine-game conference schedule. If it does, it will result in cancellations of future P5 matchups. Now an independent, BYU (joining the BIG 12 in 2023) recently announced a spat of cancellations of its future games.

Here are the Rivals 5.7 and above 2022 commits. Also included are the current Transfer Portal (TP) additions.

Four offensive players and three defensive players.

Should we start a poll on when 5.9, 4-star QB enters the TP? Supposedly , a 2023 Tennessee QB commit has a $8.1 million NIL deal. Schuler, a TP QB is a walk-on (and son of former Vol QB Heath Schuler. Former 5-star WR, Bru McCoy is the star get from the TP. So far, he has not lived up to his 5-star billing. Was it him or Slovis or other Sothern Cal QB’s? McCoy, from LA, originally signed with Texas. Asked out of his NLI (National Letter of Intent) and scurred back to LA once granted.

The Vols only lost 17 ranked and signed players since last August. That is down from the 34 players in last year’s TP

On to the stars identified as NCAA team leaders in selected stats or members of the All Big 10 teams.

Just eligibility losses.

The  offense revolves around QB play. I have added sacked and yards lost to the QB chart.

Hooker ranked #3 in passing efficiency. Behind Hooker is Joe Milton and the 2022 signed commit QB.

I also added Hooker’s career passing and rushing stats. Notice his TD/Interception ratio.

Tennessee running backs and receivers 2021 activity. Also returning production summary for Pitt, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

Outside of BC and Clemson, Tennessee has the highest percentage of returning RB’s and WR’s production. Good QB and a former 5-star to make up for the loss of the Vols second and third leading receivers.

Can the Oline stats put a damper on the returning production. I added Pitt allowed sacks and tackles for loss.

No. Looks like a solid Oline. Not great. Similar to Pitt’s Oline. What does stand out to me is the sacks allowed – 44 in 13 games compared to Pitt’s 34 in 14 games. But Tennessee’s made up for it with a lower number of TFL’s.

On to the defensive review.

Tennessee had 49 players make a defensive stat. But eight of them were offense players. One was a special teams players. That leaves 40 defensive players making a stat.

The chart below strips out the non-defensive players and fourteen players who did not make at least seven or more tackles.

The below chart includes 26 players- ten DB’s, eight DL’s and eight LB’s making up (and I mean made up) “eight+ tackles two deep.”  Yep, I lowered the number of tackles to have at least a “two deep.”

Tennessee’s returning defensive production is one of the higher ones reviewed. But let us put it into perspective. Per the NCAA defensive team stats, the Vol’s where not a good defensive team.

I should have used this chart in all my past reviews.

IMO on a scale of A+ to F-, Tennessee is a “D- “. (I have Pitt’s defense as a “B.”) Is Tennessee’s defense going to make a jump in their defensive? Probably yes. A major jump to a “C”? No.

This is going to be an interesting game. I believe Tennessee is embarrassed by losing to Pitt at home last year. They will want revenge. I have not seen any betting lines on this game but would not be surprised that the Vols are favorites.