Thoughts on Pitt’s Women VB So Far

Pitt VB - BYU Nike Invitational Champions

Here is a nice, informative piece on women’s volleyball by John Demko as the season is underway. More info on the team can be found here: Pitt Women’s VB.

As there is a two week break between Pitt football games, I decided to write an article about my thoughts on where Pitt women’s volleyball stands one third of the way through the ACC schedule.

Pitt and Louisville are the two teams at the top of the standings at 6-0.  One of these two teams will win the ACC.  There is a five-way tie for third.  Georgia Tech will be the third-place team in the ACC this year at year’s end barring some sort of injury to their star player Julia Bergmann.

Only three ACC teams are ranked in the top twenty-five presently with no other ACC team even receiving votes.  Louisville is ranked #2, Pitt is ranked #8 and Georgia Tech is ranked #11.  I do not foresee any other ACC teams being ranked the rest of the year.  Georgia Tech will need to win all their remaining matches against teams not named Louisville or Pitt to host the first round of the tournament.

Pitt’s next four matches are at home.  This weekend they will play Miami and Florida State.  Next weekend they play Notre Dame and Louisville.  Hopefully there will be a big crowd for the Louisville game on Sunday, October 23rd.  The Steelers, if you can bear to watch, play in the evening so there is no excuse not to go.

There have been several surprises in the ACC this year.  One of them is Syracuse which started out with four conference wins.  They were brought back to reality this weekend with loses to Notre Dame and Louisville.  Wake Forest also has been a pleasant surprise.  This past weekend they defeated both UNC and NC State.

On the flip side Miami and UNC have been big disappointments.  Miami was ranked for several weeks but are just 3-3 in conference play.  They have yet to play the big three so they will have at least 3 more losses.  UNC has been a train wreck.  They, along with Florida State, were receiving votes at the beginning of the year.  They had a top ten recruiting class and had last year’s ACC freshman of the year, Mabrey Shaffmaster.  Unfortunately, the team has not come together very well.  I thought Florida State was overrated so, to me, they have not been a disappointment.

Pitt has the capacity to win the league but face an uphill struggle against Louisville.  On Sunday Pitt took care of business beating Georgia Tech in front of the largest crowd to ever see a women’s volleyball match there.  Georgia Tech has the best player in the ACC, Julia Bergmann.  She got some help against Pitt from her middles but Pitt had too many weapons and Pitt won the match in four sets.

Louisville is much more balanced and will be more difficult to defeat.  Another factor that will hurt Pitt is sometimes they seem to lose focus during the match.  Sunday against Georgia Tech was a good example.  After winning a close second set 27-25, Pitt got off to a slow start in the third.  At one point they were down 10-17 and 11-18 before getting in gear.  They lost the set 22-25.  They carried the momentum into the fourth set fortunately and won it easily 25-16.  They ran off 11 straight points after Georgia Tech opened the scoring at 1-0.

Pitt has been improving since the beginning of the season.  Courtney Buzzerio is our best player.  Against Julia Bergmann on Sunday, she held her own when she was opposite her at the net.  Valeria Vazquez Gomez has become a very good player.  This week she earned her first ACC player of the week award.  She has developed a powerful swing and has improved her defense in the back row.

Our two middles, Serena Gray and Chiamaka Nwokolo, are one of our strengths.  They will be the key against Louisville as they were against Georgia Tech.  In the back row Ashley Browske, our libero, is having a very good year.  She continues to make some amazing digs.

Setting is where we have had to improvise this year.  We have three individuals at the setter position led by Rachel Fairbank, Pitt’s Swiss Army knife.  Most of the time Pitt uses a 6-2 offense.  On Sunday, because Sabrina Starks was having an off day, Pitt went for a while to a 5-1.  This puts Rachel at the net where she has to block.  At 6’0” she usually can hold her own.  Rachel also has a pretty decent swing when she is playing at the net.  In the back row she is a defensive asset.

Lexis Akeo was supposed to be our second setter but she had an injury coming into the season.  This injury continues to nag her.  Against Georgia Tech she only played the first two sets.  Fortunately, Cam Ennis has developed into a good second setter.  In the event Lexis is unable to go, I feel Pitt does not lose much with Cam in the lineup.  Cam and Rachel have been on the floor at the same time when Coach Fisher uses Rachel as an outside hitter.

Other players that have been contributing to the team include 6’5” Juliana Dalton who is one of our six rotation players along with Vazquez Gomez.  She is just a sophomore and has a huge upside.  Cat Flood has been our serving specialist.  Sabrina Starks, who is a natural middle, has been used on the right side.  This gives Pitt a better blocker up front instead of using Rachel Fairbanks there.  Sabrina is still learning the position and has had some difficulty with her kill accuracy.

Emmy Klika and Dillyn Griffin have been used late in matches to shore up our back row defense as well as giving Browske some rest.  Rachel Jepsen, our fourth middle, has gotten some playing time in mop-up duty.

What have been Pitt’s strengths so far this year.  Right off the bat, we are a lot taller than we have ever been.  Buzzerio and Dalton can hit over blocks of smaller players.  Both of them can also jump well.  Our serving is another one of our weapons not only with aces but also keeping the other team out-of-system.

The third strength is our back row defense.  Browske, Fairbanks, and Vazquez Gomez have all been defending very well.  As usual, Pitt continues to play fast.  It took several weeks for the new hitters and one new setter to get used to the fast pace, but we continue to improve this Pitt trademark.  We are going to have to play very fast against Louisville to keep them on their heels.

What are Pitt’s weaknesses?  Teams that press Pitt at the net have given Pitt problems.  The Towson loss was a result of Pitt not having their “A” team in the match at the beginning and Towson pressing the net.

To overcome this pressing Pitt needs to receive well and have multiple available hitters for the setter.  Pitt continues to have problems with back row attacks with Courtney Buzzerio being the exception.  Unfortunately, Coach Fisher usually does not have a setter on the court when Courtney is serving.  She becomes our default setter if our libero gets first contact.  (Coach Fisher apparently read Annie’s comments about Courtney being a setter both at Iowa and on her high school team.)  Dalton and Vazquez Gomez need to improve their backrow attacks to give us a fourth kill option.

Another tool that can be used is to back set the ball to the opposite pin from where the setter is facing.  Lexis Akeo has been very good at this in the past.  Fairbanks and Ennis need to do more of this.

The Louisville match at Pitt in two weeks will be a good indicator if Pitt has what it takes to win the ACC and become one of the top four seeds in the tournament.  Pitt plays Louisville twice and has to play Georgia Tech again here in Pittsburgh.  Other than those three matches Pitt has no business losing to any other ACC team.  If they do, it will either be due to injuries or lack of focus.

Here is a link to the 2022 roster.

That’s my two cent’s worth.  What do the rest of you think?



61 thoughts on “Thoughts on Pitt’s Women VB So Far

  1. what little I’ve watched this year which is about 4 matches it seems they’ve used the middle front girl a lot less than last year

    I remember the quick short sets to iirc Gray and Ndee for fast hits before defenders could get there for a block

    otherwise, to me we don’t seem to block consistently as well as other, even lesser ranked and sized teams and considering our height get blocked surprisingly at times

    not sure if our hitters aren’t quite timing to hit at their highest point or what and maybe could just be the small sample size and my Pitt fandom thinking this while the stats might show differently

    VVG does look like she’s improved over last year and not that she didn’t look good then but didn’t have to be a leader as she seems to be now

    btw, the link above takes you to the Pitt Johnstown roster – here’s the correct link

    Liked by 1 person

    1. tvax The lapses in blocking seem to be mostly due to lack of focus. Against Georgia Tech they had 13 blocks that counted and several more that were defended. It will be interesting to see if Pitt can block Chaussee, Louisville’s 6’0″ main OH. Their other two OHs are DeBeer at 6’0″ and Jones at 6’2″. When Dalton, Grey/Nwokolo, and Buzzerio are on the front line, Pitt will definitely have a height advantage. Usually when this lineup is at the front, Rachel is serving so that is when we need to make our runs. Louisville runs a 5-1 with Lazaro, 6’0″, so that will also give us a size advantage when she is up front.


  2. Great article, John. I think that the key to the rest of season and postseason is having Lexis A back full time and healthy. Cam E has done a nice job but we need stability at the setter’s position. We also need Courtney B to continue with her dominant play. If she does, she’ll be a contender for player of the year. The loss to Towsend was very disappointing, but I recently saw Towson play in person and they are very good. Still, Pitt cannot afford any more letdowns and must be competitive with Louisville. A split with them should keep Pitt in the top 10 and get us a high seed in the tournament.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. John – Thanks for the update.

    Your articles and comments (and Annie’s) about the volleyball team has dragged me kicking and screaming into watching games. I wish there were more time for replays and analysis of good plays. I’m assuming that doesn’t occur because of the fast pace of the overall game.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. With the exception of wondering if Pitt getting taller sooner would have accelerated their rise, it was often easy to wonder if Pitt was an elite (or much better) libero away from going deep in tournaments. (This statement does negate, to me, the extremely valuable role Angela Seman had as libero on the roster.)

    This is one reason I am so glad to see the extent of Ashley Browske’s improvement. Last year (even if related to the “back up qb is better” phenomenon), there are times when fans and commentators may have wanted to see Klika subbed in sooner or more.

    I have a sneaky suspicion if I analyze stats, that Dalton is doing much better than it seems watching her at times. My guess is she does have more poorer games than Vazquez Gomez (=VVG). My suspicion is that VVG’s off games are a little more similar to the off games that Kayla Lund had. Lund and VVG contribute to success in ways that may not be as obvious as when they are having a great kills night. Yet I also think it is already paying dividends for Dalton being on the court so much.

    Obviously if you had the ability to know if say Buzzerio on the roster last year would have definitively meant Pitt wins the national championship, you go that route. However, I am somewhat glad Pitt just suddenly got tall this year with Dalton and Buzzerio coming in.

    Regardless if you appreciate or bemoan what extra COVID year eligibilities did to college sports, it was nice for staples like Lund, Ndee, and Levers to get a final four in while we saw a prelude of how adept Pitt/Fisher would be at pulling transfers with the performances of Member-Meneh (=LMM) and Gray.

    Setter will be interesting come tournament time. If libero and defensive specialist play remains good enough, I think most of the criticism (or what if thoughts) post-tournament if Pitt doesn’t go all the way will be related to setter.

    Fisher has an abundance of riches. As fans, I think Pitt will appreciate anything Fisher does because he is a good coach. If he goes for the more expected Fairbanks/Akeo stability Geo71 mentions, of course that will be lauded since it is known Fisher (at least for Pitt) loves the 6-2. If he pulls a surprise and runs a 5-1 with Fairbanks, well how many teams wouldn’t run a Fairbanks 5-1 if she was on the roster? If Fisher goes “crazy” and uses four setters liberally in the tournament, despite legitimate consistency of setting style concerns, the assessment will be other teams don’t do this because they can’t if they want to win. Pitt can.

    I will not run through all contingencies to keep this comment from getting much longer. However, let’s say Fisher goes for the Fairbanks/Akeo 6-2 (with or without Buzzerio playing as setter on her serve) and Pitt’s run ends at the round of eight. —– When was the last time a 6-2 team won it all? yada yada yada —– Ennis should have been on the court more. yada yada yada —– Why didn’t he give Akeo the boot sooner and ride Fairbanks more? yada yada yada

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great article. I find myself watching Womens Volleyball almost nightly !
    A lot of it thanks to you, Annie et al

    I’m more excited to make the long drive back for VB than football. See you at Louisville !

    Liked by 3 people

  6. John, I thank you for your very informative updates about what is probably Pitt’s best team.

    Your reference to the improvements in the height of our players is in my not too well-informed opinion very significant. It was frustrating to watch our women get jammed at the net by teams with similar or even less talent and more height.

    You have pointed out our somewhat difficult-to-explain lack of focus which seems to surface and then rapidly disappear. The drop off in our focus at GTech had me cringing as the huge crowd started to contribute to our problems (they were loud and very supportive of the Lady Rambling Wrecks). I have 100% faith in Coach Fisher to solve this very correctable issue.

    Onward and hopefully upward>>Louisville will be a true battle!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t want to go into this much but think I brought up on another football thread someone’s judgement of the mindset of the players on the field, now in this case it is “focus” while the other earlier one was iirc “disinterested”

    again, much like disinterested I just don’t know how you judge “focus”

    in these games, the other team is good and these are all D1 athletes/teams and I in particular think volleyball is a game of momentum that can twist and turn and flow and then not flow at times

    that said, I guess I’d need to fall back on statistics to try to be more objective with analysis of the game but then for me stats often don’t reveal the truth either and not just when they are presented in a “cherry picking” fashion as some might be inclined to do(none on this thread btw)

    anyway please carry on and ignore me muttering here off to the side 😦 😉


  8. As a relative volleyball novice (but one who has immensely enjoyed watching the games I’ve been able to), my only concern is why you (John) have not accepted any of the offers that Coach Fisher surely must have made to you to join his staff as an assistant.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A new facility should help Pitt with recruiting but wasn’t it downsized from 3500 to 2500 capacity? If so that’s some severe short sightedness on heathers part. Volleyball and mens soccer are approaching elite status. Those programs deserve far better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the right approached here with the new facility and size. If I’m not mistaken the “Pete” is right around the corner. Everyone knows there is little room on the hill to grow.


    2. maybe just showing smart fiscal responsibility in anticipation of her virtual certain screw up coming when she loses Fisher

      amirite Lonely Star?

      maybe big games will be hosted at the Pete, home of the ever stumbling Capel crew of miscreants


    3. Yes, the facility was downsized. I have commented about that elsewhere. The consensus then was that it was better to get the new facility in place quickly instead of waiting for more funds to be raised. The Pete can also be used when necessary.

      I was at the Fitz for the UNC match this year. I believe it was the first time I was ever in the building. Unfortunately, the place was not filled which was very disappointing. Pittsburgh still has a way to go before it is a volleyball town!

      It will be interesting to see if the Louisville match sells out. It is on a Sunday when the Steelers play at night.


  10. Great job John, I’m a little familiar with our daughter playing high school volleyball. She was pretty decent. Really appreciate your articles, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. If Heather needs to worry about a cost differential of 1000 capacity, she has a fundraising issue. And that’s all on her. I feel bad the volleyball is short changed because Heather can’t pick up a phone and make a few calls. My high school center is larger than that. Amateur hour at Pitt again.


  12. So let me get this straight. If Pitt football needs to downsize, where do they go. They sure don’t need to upsize since they play at only 70 percent capacity, one of if not the lowest in the acc. There’s a reason the ladies don’t play at the Pete. There’s a reason why Pitt football needs a smaller stadium or at the very least need to tarp off certain sections and force fans down closer. Pitt has always chosen the cheap way out. Always reactive. Always not willing to roll up the sleeves and make a money pitch. Fundraising is not their forte. Lazy and stupid is.


    1. fortunately less lazy and less stupid than 4 B1G schools

      no one gives a damn – that’s Lonely isn’t it?

      it’d be great if we had stupid Tex oil money and cheap to buy open space/s to build

      that 1000 capacity doesn’t move the needle except to trigger you



      1. Texas doesn’t depend on oil money. Austin is very diversified these days. They have boosters that want to win unlike Pitt who has boosters that want narduzzi on welfare. And it shows. King Pat has no clothes. Small hands.


    2. In conversations years ago I remember discussing why Pitt was picked over Cincy and other schools for the last couple spots in the ACC. Stadium/seating capacity of Heinz Field was a strong point in Pitt’s favor as was academics.

      That will be also a large consideration if CFB goes to Super Conferences – the bigger the stadium the better chances for the non-perennial power programs (like Pitt, BC, Cincy, Wake Forest, Duke, etc.) to get accepted into one.

      I truly believe we will never see a FB stadium in Oakland for many reasons – so doubly important for Pitt to follow the Steelers in a large stadium.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Pitt will never build an on campus stadium because they have no will to do it! If Northwestern can find find land in Chicago Pitt can certainly find land in Oakland. Did the alumni enjoy walking around the North side after homecoming>


  13. Good article, John. I continue to be impressed by the detailed knowledge of the Pitt VB team demonstrated on this Pitt football blog! 👍

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person


      John, used to be just football with a little BB thrown in. But now that the readers are writing these great articles the POV has expanded into other sports coverage and isn’t that great.

      This blog has more detailed info and better articles on the ‘smaller’ sports than any of the professional media outlets and that is what makes this so much fun.

      The writers on here don’t HAVE to do it so the outlet keeps making a profit – here it is for the love of the sports and respect for fellow POV readers/commenters.

      Liked by 5 people

  14. Pitt wins 2nd set 25-18. Cat Flood comes in cold off the bench and almost serves out the set through both Miami timeouts. Pitt up 2-0 in match.

    Lexis Akeo is not playing. Sabrina Starks and Rachel Fairbanks have been used on the front line along with our usuals. Cam Ennis doing well as a setter.


  15. Maybe Dan could do this, but could someone please provide an analysis of this year’s ladies basketball team? Is this the year they break out and begin to really compete in the ACC?

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Pitt wins the 3rd set and the match 25-22. Pitt lets Miami tie it at 22 before putting them away. Next match is Sunday at 1 PM against Florida State.


  17. #2 team in the country Louisville play in the Cardinal Arena, now the L&N Federal Credit Union Arena, renovated in 2017, the 1,100-seat facility

    oh the humanity, certain to FIRE the AD, embarrassing


    GaTech(the other top 25 ACC team) played to an all time record crowd v Pitt last week and had 3418 in attendance at McCamish, their basketball arena

    GaTech VB usually plays in O’Keefe Gymnasium’s capacity of 1200



  18. After years of struggling to fill the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, with capacity in the 6500 range, I was surprised when the Petersen Events Center opened with a seating of around 12,500. I thought it would always look empty. In no time at all the place was packed and there was a waiting list for season tickets. Having less seating than the demand for seats can be a really good thing. It can become one of the hottest tickets in town and that in itself seems to push demand even higher. Having a waiting list for volleyball season tickets in a 2400 seat arena would be a good problem to have.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you for the update on the volleyball team, John. I really enjoyed tonight’s match. The match was very competitive even though it never felt like our ladies were in any danger of losing. I will say that the Miami coach looked like he was enjoying the match about as much as a colonoscopy prep. Looked like one miserable son-of-a-gun. I guess that is how you feel when your team is about to be beaten by an opponent for the 10th time in a row.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Not watching the game but just checked the stats. Mich out-gained PSU by 270 to 80 and leads in time of possession 24 min to 6 min. Yet Mich only leads by 2 points.

    I dread PSU finding a way to win this game, like a blocked punt…. All that talent – must be poorly coached. How much does their head coach make??

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I heard on XM 84 College Sports Radio that tickets for the Iowa State at Texas game were going for $2.00 each. Yes, two George Washington’s per commentators Bobby Carpenter and Jacob Hester.

    Wow – not much interest in FB in Austin? How much are they paying Sark and their transfer QB Quinn Eiwer?

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Start of the 4th qtr – psuX down by 14 with Michigan driving.

    I guess the wolverines don’t fit the “cupcake” description per Jimmy Franks.


    1. QB Clifford, in his SIXTH year, apparently not the hoped for “Kenny Pickett 2.0.” Though they are about the same age…

      Go Pitt.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. The team stats for the PSU-Mich game are embarrassing for a team with the numbers of “stars” PSU has. Here they are – maybe you can guess which team is listed first…

    1st Downs 10 28
    3rd down efficiency 4-12 11-17
    4th down efficiency 1-4 1-1
    Total Yards 268 563
    Passing 157 145
    Comp-Att 12-29 17-24
    Yards per pass 5.4 6.0
    Interceptions thrown 0 1
    Rushing 111 418
    Rushing Attempts 22 55
    Yards per rush 5.0 7.6
    Penalties 5-55 9-61
    Turnovers 0 1
    Fumbles lost 0 0
    Interceptions thrown 0 1
    Possession 18:04 41:56


    1. PSUX’ D held opponents scoreless on 81% of the drives coming into todays game.

      Michigan scored on 8 of 10 drives, the last being the back-up running out the clock.

      Cupcakes don’t prepare you for real games jimmy

      Liked by 2 people

    1. damn, how’d we feel if we didn’t blow the GaTech game?

      lots of game left for Alabama but Hooker looking good along with the Tenn defense

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Miami does just enough to keep the lure alive by beating VT by one score.

    Cuse? Can they hang on to be ranked when they play Pitt?

    Could help our Panthers…


  25. And Paul Zeise sorta nailed it:

    Pitt also lost to a bad Georgia Tech team.
    And what that means is comparative scores are meaningless”

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.