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.
|Overall Team Total||1792||1671||184||1671||2245||55||488|
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.
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.