2022 Preseason Pitt Women’s Volleyball Report

By John In South Carolina

Pitt’s 2022 women’s volleyball season in almost ready to start.  The Blue-Gold scrimmage will be played Saturday, August 20th, at 1 PM in the Fitz.  The regular season starts on Friday, August 26th with San Diego at Texas A&M’s Invitational.  Pitt’s ACC schedule starts on Friday, September 23rd against UNC at the Fitz.  This is a match I plan to attend in person and actually will be the first time I see Pitt play in their home gym, ever!

I did a Production Loss article for the POV back in June on how much the Pitt roster has changed from last year.  It was patterned on and inspired by PITT-cocks Fan’s great Production Loss articles that have informed and entertained us all summer.  One can view the article under Archives in the June section.  Below is Pitt’s roster for the upcoming season.

PositionNo.PlayerHeightYears of EligibilityNotes
Middle Blocker6Rachel Jepsen6’4″4 
 20Chiamaka Nwokolo6’1″2MB/RS
 21Serena Gray6’2″1 
 11Sabrina Starks6’2″1 
Outside7Julianna Dalton6’5″3 
 8Courtney Buzzerio6’5″1RS/S/6 Pos.
 2Valeria Vazquez Gomez6’1″36 Pos.
 5Cam Ennis6’0″1OH/S
 3Cat Flood6’2″3 
 18Eliana Posada6’2″3RS
Setter1Lexis Akeo5’8″2 
 10Rachel Fairbanks6’0″3OH/6 Pos.
Libero/Defensive Specialist16Dillyn Griffin5’8″4
 4Ashley Browske5’10”2
 12Emmy Klika5’7″3

VolleyballMag.com ranked Pitt’s incoming players #9 in the nation.  The only other ACC team ranked was UNC at #10.  North Carolina State and Duke were among the Honorable Mentions.  This is their take on the players:

“Incoming freshmen: Rachel Jepson, 6-4, MB, Olympus (Holladay, Utah), Club V; Dillyn Griffin, 5-8, libero, Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, California), A4
Transfers: Courtney Buzzerio, 6-5, RS, Grad., Iowa; Cam Ennis, 6-0, OH, Grad., Kansas/Texas A&M; Julianna Dalton, 6-5, OH, Soph., Washington State

Synopsis: Dalton is a 6-5 outside coming from Washington State and trained with Pitt this past spring. “Julianna is a big-time get,” Panthers coach Dan Fisher said. “She has played at a high level in club and college and knows how to work hard. We know she brings a physical presence at the net, but is also committed to being an all-around player. We expect Julianna to have a big impact on our program.” Fisher calls Buzzerio a “proven point-scorer,” and someone who “fills an immediate need,” he said. “We expect her to have a big impact, bringing physicality, experience and leadership.” Ennis will help the Panthers on the left side. “Cam is a much-needed piece for us on the left side,” Fisher noted. Jepson, out of Utah, is a 2022 VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 selection. “Rachel possesses the rare combination of incredible talent and humility,” Fisher said. “We have extremely high expectations and know she can be an elite college volleyball middle blocker.” Griffin is a highly decorated back row player out of Foothill Ranch, California. “I believe this is our most physical and experienced recruiting class to date,” Fisher said. “We have three Power 5 transfers who will have an immediate impact. In addition, we have added two highly ranked freshmen who we expect to compete right away. With this talented group joining our returning players, we are confident in our chances to compete for an ACC championship.””  From the article by Mike Miazga posted at Volleyballmag.com on 8/8/2022.

The most surprising thing about the passage is that we are weak at the left OH position.  Apparently, Dalton, Gomez, Flood, and Posada have not been very impressive there.  If Ennis is our best option, we may not be a strong as a lot of people think.  Ms. Dalton better work on her left side technique if she wants to see a great deal of playing time and become a six-rotation player!

OK now on to our starting 8 players.  I will start with the easiest areas first.  At setter we will have Lexis Akeo and Rachel Fairbanks as Fisher stays with the 6-2.  For now, we will assume Rachel will not play on the front line.  At middle blocker we will have Serena Gray and Chiamaka Nwokolo.  Courtney Buzzerio will take one of our six rotation player positions.  Julianna Dalton will take over the second OH position substitution that Chinaza Ndee held for the last two years giving Pitt a continuous 6’-5” RS.  Next year Julianna needs to make the jump to being a six-position player.  At libero we may have our first competition for position.  Will Emmy Klika displace last year’s starter Ashley Browske?  If Emmy continues the development that she showed through last year, this may be a distinct possibility.

The position most in doubt is the second six rotation player.  The most likely player to fill this would be Valeria Gomez.  Apparently, Cam Ennis is also in the mix for the position based on Fisher’s comments.  Cam is a more experienced back row player than Gomez.  Gomez has the edge in the front row and serving.  Hopefully Gomez can work on her left side attack and take this position.  If one of our setters gets injured then Gomez wins this competition by default as Ennis is our insurance setter.  So that is a summary of our starting lineup.

Who are the next players off the bench?  In the beginning of the season, it will the following.  On the front outsides it would be Curt Flood and/or Valeria Gomez if she loses out to Ennis.  In the backrow it will be the loser of the libero battle.  In the middle it will be Sabrina Stark. Later on in the season I expect the following changes to occur in first-off-the-bench.  Rachel Jepsen will displace Sabrina Starks.  She was the star of the Notre Dame recruits before they canned their coach.  Dan Fisher swooped in and flipped her during Notre Dame’s coaching search.  I expect her to be a 6’-4” version of Serena Gray.  She is supposed to be that good.  She may be brought in as a server as a way to ease her into playing time.  We also should expect to see Dillyn Griffin as Coach Fisher may follow the trend to use more defensive specialists in the back row.  Do not be surprised if we go with a libero and a defensive specialist at the same time especially if we have Courtney Buzzerio in the back as the backrow attacker.

So, who has to perform at or above expectations for Pitt to match last year’s performance?  First, Courtney Buzzerio has to have a year at Pitt like she those has had at Iowa.  She needs to be our number one threat!  Second, Julianna Dalton has to improve over the impressive freshman year at WSU.  If she can become our second six-rotation player THIS year that would be fantastic.  Rachel Fairbanks and Serena Gray have to maintain the high level of play expected of them.  If Julianna cannot make the jump to becoming the six-rotation player, one of the other OHs would need to have a Leketor Member-Meneh like season.  We need three scorers besides the middle blockers on the court at all times.  Last year we had Kayla Lund, Member-Meneh, and Chinaza Ndee.  Lund and Member-Meneh were our left side scorers.

The coaching staff has one change.  Michael Fisher is our volunteer assistant coach replacing Morgan Thomas.   Michael is no relation to Dan Fisher and played his college volleyball at St. Francis in Loretto, PA.  Morgan was hired as an assistant coach at TCU and is their recruiting coordinator.  She made a very wise move spending one year under Fisher even if it was without pay.

Some words about Pitt’s OOC this year.  The toughest team on the schedule is BYU on BYU’s home court.  The Cincinnati match in the BYU tournament also may be a tough match that early in the season.  Ohio State at Pitt will be the second toughest match.  The RPI for the OOC will not be as great as it was last year so Pitt cannot to stumble out of the gate or within the ACC.  The other top two teams in the ACC scheduled their OOC as tough as Pitt.  Georgia Tech also has BYU and Ohio State along with Dayton.  Louisville has an even tougher schedule with Purdue, Kentucky, Stanford, and Xavier.  UNC, for once, actually scheduled two Big Ten teams on their OOC: Michigan and Michigan State.  Duke also has an impressive OOC.

Pitt will be ranked just outside of the top ten at the start of this season and will have to play their way into it.  To do that they would have to be undefeated in the OOC or have only one loss, to BYU.  This is entirely possible.

As the OOC winds up I will publish an update of how Pitt did as well as what I believe Pitt will do in the ACC this year.  Presently I do not see them as one of the top two teams in the conference.  Louisville and Georgia Tech will occupy those two spots.

As always: Hail to Pitt!