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!