Volleyball Blue- Gold Game by Annie
Pitt’s Volleyball team had its pre-season Blue-Gold scrimmage Saturday at Fitzgerald Field House. The fan turnout was less than I had expected, based on the success of the team last year. There were only about a couple hundred people there, if that many. The team also invited all season ticket holders to a reception on the FH balcony after the game, with Coach Fisher addressing the group. More about that later.
The scrimmage was four sets, with the teams made up of different players each set.
The returning players from last season, year, and position are:
Lexis Akeo, SR, Setter (S)
Valeria Vazques Gomez, RSJr, Outside Hitter (OH)
Cat Flood, JR, OH
Ashley Browske, SR, Libero (L)
Rachel Fairbanks, Soph, S
Sabrina Starks, Grad, Middle Blocker (MB)
EmmY Klika, Soph, L
Eliana Posada, RSFr, Right Side (RS)
Chiamaka Nwokolo, SR, MB/RS
Serena Gray, Grad, MB
New Faces are:
Cam Ennis- Grad, OH/S
Rachel Jepsen, Fr, MB
Juliana Dalton, Soph, OH
Courtney Buzzerio, Grad, RS/S
Dillyn Griffin, FR, Defensive Specialist (DS)
Non-game observations I had – The Field House was outfitted with air conditioning. I don’t remember it having AC in the past, and the players would sweat all over the court. Today there was definitely AC keeping the temperature comfortable. I wore a sleeveless shirt in anticipation of sweating my butt off, but almost felt a chill instead.
New uniforms- of course they would have new uniforms, but the gold team wore sleeveless shirts, and some of the players wore arm sleeves. Many players use these to soften the sting of passing the hard hits from attacking opposing players. It is a sharp look.
Referees- as the match was going on (using four refs), there were six more sitting on the bench that rotated in during various sets. I guess this was either a training session for newbies or regulars needing a scrimmage also. They looked like newbies to me.
Set 1 Gold Team
Buzzerio, Fairbanks, Starks, Jepsen, Browske, Griffin, Flood, Ennis
(Jepsen and Starks play front row only)
Coaches: Lindsey Behonick and Michael Fisher
Set 1 Blue Team
Kamalani Akeo (coach), Dalton, Klika, Posada, Nwokolo, Gray, Vaazquez Gomez
(Lexis Akeo did not play, her older sister did the setting)
Coaches: HC Dan Fisher and Kellen Petrone
The teams played very fast. Several writers say one of the toughest things about Pitt VB is their fast offense. It doesn’t give the defense times to adjust and put up a block. That was evident again today. It also made it hard to watch the game and analyze the individual players.
The team is taller than in the past, and I was impressed with the number of blocks that went straight or nearly straight down. The combination of Jepsen and Buzzerio for the gold team was very effective.
The Gold team started hot and forced the blue team to call timeout at 11-5.
For the Gold team, Sabrina Starks played well with a couple kills and blocks. Cat Flood looked improved from last season, and got an ace and a couple kills.
For the Blue Vazquez Gomez was hot and cold. At times, she had trouble getting past the block, but when she had an opening she pounded the ball. I have been critical of Posada in the past. Today she looked a little improved and had a couple kills. She does not have any hops, and does not have a particularly fast swing, so I see that being a problem against our big opponents. Without the block there she can put the ball down though.
The Gold team won Set 1 25-14. Stats from Set 1:
9 Kills 10
9 Assists 9
11 Digs 17
3 Blocks 6.5
0 Aces 3
The Gold team handily won with aces, blocks, and digs.
Set 2 Gold Team
Ennis, Browske, Griffin, Starks, Kilka, Vazquez Gomez, Posada
(Posada did not play in this set, Ennis was the setter)
Set 2 Blue Team
Fairbanks, Gray, Flood, Buzzerio, Nwokolo, Dalton, Jepson
The fast play from Set 1 continued. Sabrina Starks is having a good blocking day. A timeout was called by the Blue team with Gold up 15-11. Later, it was Gold that called T.O. with the score 21-19. After back and forth scoring, it was the Blue team that pulled out the win 28-26.
I forgot to take a picture of the stats at the end of that set.
Set 3 Gold Team
Griffin, Ennis, Klika, Dalton, Jepsen, Buzzerio, Gray, Posada
(Posada did not play in this set. Ennis was the setter.)
Coaches: HC Dan Fisher and Lindsey Behonick
Set 3 Blue Team
Vazquez Gomez, Fairbanks, Browske, Flood, Starks, Nwokolo
Coaches: Michael Fisher and Kellen Petrone
Nwokolo played better early in this set. Not that she played badly earlier, she just wasn’t the dominating factor we know she can be. Later I noticed she was slow to get to the block, and caused Flood to put up single blocks. Vazquez Gomez really moved well and played tough all over the court. Cat Flood also looked strong with a couple kills and blocks.
Blue took control of the set early causing Gold to call TO with the score at 9-6, then again at 16-8. With the score 24-14 Blue, Gold had a little run to take the score to 17, but then Blue put it away 25-17.
Stats at the end of Set 3.
41 Kills 37
39 Assists 34
35 Digs 40
15 Blocks 12.5
1 Aces 5
Set 4 Blue Team
Ennis, Browske, Starks, Buzzerio, Nwokolo, Vazquez Gomez
Coaches: Kellen Petrone and Mike Fisher
Set 4 Gold Team
Fairbanks, Klika, Griffin, Posada, Jepsen, Flood, Dalton, Gray
(Dalton and Gray did not play)
Coaches: HC Dan Fisher and Lindsey Behonik
This set was played to 15. Gold started slowly and called a T.O. with the score 5-0. Things did not get better, and the final score was 15-6.
50 Kills 41
48 Assists 37
42 Digs 44
17 Blocks 13.5
2 Aces 6
Several players went 3-1 during the scrimmage. The rest did not. It has no reflection on how they played though. The teams were very competitive and each team had great plays. The players who went 3-1 were Flood, Browske, Fairbanks, Starks, Nwokolo, and Buzzerio.
After the scrimmage there was an autograph session with the players, then a reception up on the balcony for season ticket holders. They had snacks and light refreshments. HC Fisher introduced each of the players and coaches, and gave a little information about each one. He then gave the players five minutes to mingle around with the crowd. I was by myself and stood up to talk to Vazquez Gomez (I was going to tell her about how much Wolfe loves her), but she was talking to someone else. Cat Flood and Rachael Fairbanks were standing near me and came over and introduced themselves. We had a nice chat, and as you would expect, they are very nice and appreciative of the support we give them.
HC Fisher explained about why he scheduled the teams to play that he did. The number one goal for the team is to make it into the tourney. After that, it’s to have a high enough RPI and be ranked so that we can be eligible to host the first two rounds of the tourney. So the teams he chose have the ability to be ranked, win a lot of games (20+), and also make it into the tourney.
We also learned a few things:
The teams will switch sides between sets this year, going back to the pre-Covid rules.When the play is over and the point awarded, the team with the serve has 20 seconds to get the serve off, otherwise they lose the point and the serve. Apparently during the tourney Valeria Vazquez Gomez took 12 seconds to get her serves off, so a rule change was put in place.
Victory Heights is under construction. Yes, dirt has been moved! The Performance Center where the VB team will play is expected to be done by the fall of 2024. We shall see.
Theoretically, having success on the court brings in better recruits. Coach affirmed that to be true. We have four (I think) for next year and two for 2024. He said next year’s incoming players is the strongest group he has ever had. LOI are signed in November. He could not elaborate after that due to NCAA rules.
Rachael Jepsen has only been playing volleyball for two years. The ceiling is sky high for her.
Despite being 6-5” Courtney Buzzerio has played setter for two years, so if we get in trouble with injuries she is an option, along with Cam Ennis.
Lexis Akeo did not play because of “a slight injury”. Hopefully she will be ready to go for the season.
When asked who the next Leketor Member-Meneh would be for this team, coach said he thinks it will be by the collection of players instead of just one. Who knows, someone may jump out during the season. Lek was not a starter last year until Vazquez Gomez went out with an injury. After that Vazquez Gomez (VG) could not win the job back.
They want VG to work on her passing. She was targeted during the playoffs last year, so that has been a point of emphasis during the off-season. She played on a Puerto Rico National Team over the summer so that was great competition and experience for her.
There is a big competition going on for the libero position. Ashley Browske was the starter last year but faded during the tourney, and Emmy Klika stepped in and did a great job. To this point HC Fisher said they could not make a decision on who the starter will be yet.
Competition for each spot is fierce, and it makes better players of all of them.
I did not think anyone stuck out as a superstar “take over the game player” this year like Lek did last year. That being said, there wasn’t a single rotation that I thought was weak up front. The coaches have their work cut out for them to put together the best combination of players. We are going to be good. In the unfortunate case of an injury happening, we are deep. And we should not get out-blocked by taller teams this year. We are tall.
I thought Valeria Vazquez Gomez improved from last year. Her intensity was raised to another level. Cat Flood also improved, and Sabrina Starks was a beast. The extra competition has definitely helped her elevate her game.
We go into this season ranked #6. Get ready for some fun again this year. Support the team by coming back to the Field House for games and cheer on the players.