WVB Sweet 16 Bound

Our women’s volleyball team is set, for the third year in a row, a third-round Sweet Sixteen match in the NCAA tournament with their victory over BYU this past Saturday.  They along with that other Pennsylvania school, Penn State, will travel to Madison, Wisconsin, the home of the Badgers, to play their next matches.  Pitt and Louisville are the only two ACC teams that made it to the Sweet Sixteen this year.

#2 Pitt will play #3 Florida at 3:30 PM on Thursday, December 8th.  #1 Wisconsin will play #4 Penn State in the following match at 6:00 PM.  Both matches will be on ESPNU.  In case you are hoping for a Penn State win, that is highly unlikely as the Badgers downed the Lions 3-0 at Madison in September and 3-2 in State College in November in their two matchups this year.

Before we discuss Florida, I want to introduce another statistic to my analysis and then briefly discuss the BYU victory.

The new statistic is points per set by a player.  A player awarded one point for a kill, an ace, a single block, and 0.5 for a block assist.  It a very good indicator on how valuable a player is to a team.  Pitt’s season leaders for the season in this statistic are as follows:

Courtney Buzzerio 4.30
Valeria Vazquez Gomez 2.96
Serena Gray 2.85
Julianna Dalton 2.67
Chiamaka Nwokolo 2.03,
Rachel Fairbanks 1.64.

The ACC leader this year in this statistic was Julia Bergmann of Georgia Tech with 5.86 points/set.

The ease of the Pitt second round win over BYU was a pleasant surprise to me given the circumstances.  A gritty Pitt team defeated a much taller BYU team in a surprising three set sweep.  Pitt played the match without 6’5” OH Julianne Dalton.  We used Cam Ennis in her place.

Our Panthers played a fairly error free game and kept BYU out of system with our serves most of the match.  The only stat that Pitt lost was blocks by a 9-3 margin.  If you were cringing during the many times Pitt had a front line of 6’0” Cam Ennis, 6’1” Chiamaka Nwokolo, and 6’0” Rachel Fairbanks facing a much taller BYU front row during the match, you were not alone!  That was one of the main reasons we did not win the block stat.

Pitt won the match on the back of three main players along with very good defensive play on the back row by libero Emmy Klika and defensive specialist Ashley Browske.  Pitt’s three main players were Courtney Buzzerio with 23 total points or 7.67 pts./set, Rachel Fairbanks with 11 points or 3.67 pts./set, and Valeria Vazquez Gomez with 10 points or 3.33 pts./set.  Coach Fisher in addition to a great game plan for the match also deserves credit for two points won on challenges, one at a crucial moment in the second set.

Rachel Fairbanks had Pitt’s first ever triple-double in a NCAA tournament match with 10 kills, 28 assists, and 13 digs.  Rachel should have been on the All ACC first team and not on the second team!  The reason she did not was the importance of a setter in a 5-1 system versus a 6-2 system which Pitt uses.

Courtney Buzzerio set a new Pitt record for most kills in a NCAA tournament match with 23.  This was in a three-set match which makes it even more incredible.   Courtney is carrying more than her fair share of the load so criticism of some of her other stats does not seem fair to me.

As an aside, Coach Fisher thinks Cam Ennis is our next best outside hitter after Julianna Dalton.  This does not bode well for next year.  Hopefully our incoming freshman trio of outside hitters will come up to speed quickly like Kayla Lund did her freshman year.

Our match against Florida is the last and main topic.  Pitt is 2-1 against Florida with 1998 being the last time the two of them met.  The Gators are the co-champions of the SEC along with Kentucky.  Florida was 25-5 for the season and 15-3 in the SEC.  They were seeded below Pitt in the tournament.  Florida defeated Florida A&M 3-0 in the first round of the tournament and #6 Iowa State 3-0 in the second round.

Florida’s best win was a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin in Madison.  They also defeated Kentucky at home.  Their losses were to Kentucky at home, Georgia at home, at South Carolina, Stanford at home, and at Minnesota.

The common opponents between Pitt and Florida were Virginia and Florida State.  Florida swept them both.  Pitt swept Florida State and defeated Virginia 3-1.

The Gators are a tall, young team who run a 5-1 offense.  They have 125 serve aces versus 245 serve errors.  They have a hitting % of 0.270 versus their opponents’ 0.155.

Fisher and Fairbanks have a bit of insider knowledge about the Gators’ players, at least some of them.  Three of the twelve players that were on the U.S. Pan American Cup U21 team Coach Fisher guided to the gold medal were Gators. 

One of the players was #13 6’3” RS/OH 6’3” Soph. Merritt Beason, who was named the tournament MVP.  The other members of the team were #9 MB 6’4” Soph. Bre Kelley and #5 S 6’2” Fr. S Alexis Stucky.  Kelley was the primary MB for the team while Stuckey was the second setter on U21 team behind Pitt’s Fairbanks.

The kill leaders on the Gators along with the points per set are as follows:

338 (3.55 pts/set) #11 OH 6’5” Sr. Marina Markova, Beason 335 (4.21 pts/set) and #4 OH 6’1” Jr. Sofia Victoria 276 (2.92 pts/set).

The block leaders are as follows:

 #10 MB 6’3” Soph. Gabrielle Essix 133 (2.26 pts/set) and Kelley 119 (2.51 pts/set)
An item of note is Stuckey, the setter, has 65 blocks (1.20 pts/set).

#23 L 5’7” Jr. Elli McKissock is their dig leader with 406.  The next player for digs has less than half that.

The Gators will be a much more difficult opponent than BYU.  They have three very good outside hitters whereas BYU only had one.  Of the three I would say Beason is the most dangerous.  The two Florida middles are taller and just as athletic as Pitt’s two middles.  Pitt also will not have a big advantage when the setter is on the front line as Stuckey is 6’2” and a good blocker.

Against Florida I do not think we can win the match without Dalton.  Florida’s outsides are just too tall and athletic for Ennis.  Even with Stuckey in front of Ennis, Pitt is at a height and athletic disadvantage.  If this turns out to be the case, Pitt may get swept.

Pitt has 6’2” Starks to use on the front line.  She has not been very good on the left side though, which is where Dalton usually plays.  Sabrina Stark is a natural middle who sometime plays the right side which complicates the matter.

In order to end this on a positive note, we will assume Dalton plays but only on the front row.  With Dalton on the front row, Fisher will once again go with two defensive specialists in the backrow as much as he can. 

This will become more difficult to do with longer sets due to the 15 substitutions per set rule which was instituted in the 2012 season.  It was previously 12.  Pitt will probably keep Fairbanks and Vazquez Gomez in as many rotations as possible as both are very good defensive players.

Given the Dalton scenario, I believe Pitt can win the match in four sets but may lose it in five sets.  This is due to Pitt needing its legs to counter Florida’s height advantage.  Buzzerio and Vazquez Gomez must have great games.  Our middles must be better than the Gators’ middles.

Good luck Panthers!  Hail to Pitt!

32 thoughts on “WVB Sweet 16 Bound

  1. The AVCA announced their all-regional teams and awards today. Pitt did very well.

    AVCA All East Coast Team
    Courtney Buzzerio – OH
    Rachel Fairbanks – S/Opp
    Serena Gray – MB
    Chiamaka Nwokolo – MB
    Valeria Vazquez Gomez – OH

    East Coast Region Player of the Year: Courtney Buzzerio
    Courtney was chosen over Julia Bergmann of Georgi Tech!!

    East Coast Region Coach of the Year: Dan Fisher

    10 regions in total, regions make no sense in terms of schools in a region. Pitt and Penn State are not in the same region. Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Princeton, and Youngstown State are in the same region. Louisville, Syracuse, Towson, Creighton, and Delaware are in the same region. Schools in the same region as Pitt include University of Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, St. John’s, Binghamton University, and UMBC.

    In volleyball portal news, Anna Dodson, an All-PAC12 middle blocker from UCLA, is in the portal. She is rumored to be coming to Pitt if Coach Fisher agrees. That will fill a big hole in our roster for next year.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Richard, your insight is highly appreciated. One thing that we all know for sure is that Coach Fisher will have our team motivated and completely ready to give their very best against a tough opponent.


    1. I’d like to take credit for the article because it is excellent as always. But the credit should go to John Demko (John in South Carolina).

      John is my fellow South Carolian.


  3. Now I’m confused but thank you for the great article. This has to be the greatest writeup for not just a PITT women’s volleyball game but any volley team in the history of the sport. You just can’t touch the POV when it comes to PITT information and preparation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Give thanks to John Demko (John in South Carolina) for the article. He deserves it for the excellent coverage.


  4. It will take a miracle to get past Florida and whisky and Da Ville and then most likely Texas. That’s three number ones. If fisher does that, he’s the best volleyball coach for a season ever in the history of womens volleyball.

    He’s a very good coach but a coach can only do so much. Pitt is far less talented compared to at least three of those four schools. Talent wins in the end in a tournament setting.

    Pitt soccer however has an excellent chance at a Natty. They actually have real good talent. Granted it’s mainly foreign from academies. Heather will be pleased with the directors cup points for a NC since football will receive zero unless they somehow make the top 25. Fat chance with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This year’s volleyball team is about the same as last year’s if Dalton can play. Last year at this time, Kayla Lund was hurt even though she did her best in the tournament. If she had been healthy, we may have won the championship last year.

      As for Coach Fisher, he did a very good job planning for BYU without Dalton. The players played a mostly error free match and won easily. We shall approach this one match at a time. We must first defeat Florida and then we will see about the other roadblocks in our way. Never count out a Fisher coached team!

      Something to keep an eye on. The UCLA women’s volleyball coaching job is open. If Coach Fisher ever wants to return to the West Coast, this is the ideal job. With his ties to California and Hawaii he would have UCLA back as a powerhouse within two years.
      UCLA will offer him truckloads of money and will joyfully buyout his Pitt contract. Hopefully he and his family now consider Pittsburgh home and will stay.


      1. That opening in LA does worry me some. Let’s hope Fisher favors winters over quakes, smog, and fires. And compared to LA the traffic in Pgh is a walk in the park !


      2. I think that the addition of Dalton and Buzzerio offsets the loss of Lund and Ndee from last year’s team. We don’t have anyone to offset Member-Minae though. However, the improved play of Vasquez Gomes and Fairbanks plus stronger defense from Browski and Klicka make this year’s team a little stronger. Pitt needs to avoid those letdown periods where they seem out of sorts. If they play “their game” they should beat Florida. Anything after that would be a bonus, especially a win over Wisconsin on their home court.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. With Dalton on the floor I don’t see the disadvange in size or talent. If Ennis is forced to play the front row then yes, BYU took her lunch money but she never got down and kept going hard on every play. There are about 8 teams left that can win it all and believe it or not Pitt is one of them. It’s a tough road to navigate but it is tough for everyone. Wiskey, Texas and the ‘ville aren’t sure bets by any stretch and I’m leaning towards San Diego over Stanford. Let the chips fall where they may, H2P

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice writeup John. I stand by my criticism of Buzzerio as far as her lack of blocking goes. Yes she is great offensively, but defense at the net is equally important. It’s not like I expect her to be a great back line player or even server (though she is an excellent server), but she is so tall that the block should be there. That should be the easy part for her. H2P!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On this we must agree to disagree. Pitt needs her badly as an offensive weapon. To have her continually press the net of defense and quickly drop back on offense is asking a lot. Just her presence on the front line is causing teams to avoid her side of the court.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You get a block and there is no need to back up for the approach, jump and swing…. geez- all she has to do is extend her arms over the net. 😉


    2. One very important factor during the BYU match is that she was match against Livingstone in the front row. That young woman had one heck of a match, I’ll take her on my team in a heartbeat!


  6. I am a long time reader of the Pov. It is excellent. I am surprised that the run that Pitt’s Men’s Soccer team is on has received no comments. They are in the College Cup, soccer’s equivalent of the Final Four. This is the second time in recent years. They play perennial power house Indiana on Friday at 6:00 on ESPNU. Pitt is extremely well coached, and very talented. H2P

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There has been some discussion about the men’s soccer team but no one that reads this blog has been willing to step up and write about it. I have learned a lot about soccer just from the insights made by some of the commenters here. Perhaps one of them can write something if we get to the championship match!


      1. Pittsburgh sports now or some Pittsburgh soccer site has some very good soccer reporters. And I think even the Pitt news. A link to their commentary might be all that is needed since they follow Pitt exclusively and attend games. I know soccer but don’t know enough about Pitt other than they are a complete team this year. They are both physically and mentally tough this season. With experience. I won’t bet against them.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. My money is on Pitt winning a Natty. This is a rematch with Indiana. Pitt now has more experience and a much better defense. I really like their chances. Coach J is Pitts best HC. Thank you Barnes. But no thanks for Capel.

      Fisher is next. And now his recruiting success will make sustaining elite status even easier. All despite having a dump for a venue and little regional talent.

      Both are signed to extended contracts. A no brainer after their proven results. Capel has yet to prove he can even get to the NIT. Narduzzi has yet to prove he can sustain consecutive top 25 seasons.

      Beating ucla in the sun without the bruins all pac 12 QB and RB means nothing. I’m not wasting my money to travel to west Texas Mexico. I’ll watch on TV and hopefully that Texas kid starts as QB since the transfer from Arizona quit to pursue another girlfriend in another state.


    3. I wish I could send Sandy Cheeks to this game. But she’ll be working. Pitt is better suited to handle The Hoosiers this go around. They are brimming with confidence now. They know how to win and close out close matches. I’ll guarantee like broadway Joe that Pitt soccer will win the NC. They are gonna roll their next two opponents.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. ‘76’79… thanks for your comment… John and Annie have taken the reins for our VB team and have educated a lot of people on here…. I know next to nothing about soccer… you have an opportunity to teach a bunch of us…


  7. I don’t know Volleyball but I’ll be watching
    Seems like we have a “murderers row” of upcoming games. I’ve watched Wisky all year and they are a very tough out!

    Vandy a 3.5 fave over Pitt BBall tonight at 9. As always, if we hit our threes, we win.


    1. They are very tough indeed. But other than size I believe the ‘ville is more athletic. On the other side I feel Tx will have their hands full with San Diego!


  8. So which Pitt team shows up tonight? The team that played WV and Michigan or the team that is on a 5 game streak?

    I just learned that PA State law has hampered our NIL efforts, but the law changes January, not sure of details, but we need all the help we van get.


  9. I look forward to tonight’s game (wish it could start earlier, but Nashville is in Central Time Zone). The Commodores are coached by Jerry Stackhouse a man who really knows his way around the hardwood. Great academics at a school not known for cheating and yes, they made it into the 3rd round of the NIT last year while Capel and Co. were home on the Strip waiting for the calories to arrive at Primanti’s. DEEEFENSE will decide if we are for real and
    yeah, some 3 pointeroos from Nike wouldn’t hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

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