Here is another well researched and written article on the Women’s Volleyball team’s progress through the tournament sent in by John in SC…
Pitt women’s volleyball’s next test in the NCAA tournament is PAC-12 winner the Washington Huskies. Washington has a 19-3 record. Their three losses were to Arizona State, #15 UCLA, and # 16 Oregon. They also beat all three teams in their two-match series. The other wins over ranked teams were two wins over #10 Utah by the scores of 3-0 and 3-1. Washington is ranked #7 and was seeded #6 in the tournament.
As of this writing of the five teams from the PAC-12 in the tournament only Washington remains in the tournament. Four of the five teams were seeded. The three teams went down in the second round. Oregon got eliminated in the third round by #7 seed Purdue.
Washington has been pushing their luck in the tournament. Dayton took them to 5 sets. Washington won the first 2 sets, lost the next 2 sets, and won the last set 15-11. Washington just barely beat Louisville. Washington won the first and fourth sets, with Louisville winning sets two and three. After beating Louisville 25-14 in the fourth set, Washington got off to a horrible start in the fifth set down 5-0. They would also be down by 7-1 and 10-4 in the set.
Louisville unfortunately fell apart and lost the set and therefore the match by a score of 15-13. Washington and Louisville played their match on the same court after the Pitt victory over Minnesota so they have about 3 hours less rest ahead of the match than Pitt.
Here are the some of the awards the Huskies have received this year. #7 Ella May Powell, 6’0”, was named PAC-12 Setter of the year. Head Coach Keegan Cook was named PAC-12 Coach of the year. In addition to Powell, #9 Samantha Drechsel, 6’4”, and #21 Claire Hoffman, 6’2”, were first team PAC-12. #1, Lauren Sanders, 6’4”, and #12 Marin Grote, 6’4”, were honorable mention. #18 Madi Endsley, 6’2”, made the All-Freshman team.
Washington’s hitting percentage is 0.256 while holding their opponents to 0.197. They average 2.6 blocks per set. They have 144 service aces to 198 service errors. Dreshel, Hoffman, and Endsley make their offense go. Between them they have 72% of the kills. Not surprisingly the Huskies only use one setter, Powell. Powell is third in digs on the team. Drechsel and Grote are their leading blockers with numerous of secondary blockers.
Pitt is again facing a very tall team that is well coached. They are not as battled tested as Minnesota. Washington is very resilient and poised in the face of great adversity. Louisville did us no favors by blowing the big lead in that last set. Washington now probably feels they are a team of destiny. With Pitt’s win over Minnesota, Washington will not be overconfident. Pitt is the talk of the tournament now!
So, what can Pitt due to win this match? In this match they need to concentrate on Drechsel and Hoffman. They need to serve at their setter, Powell, and target her with our hits. She cannot set if she has first contact. Others have tried this tactic as shown by Powell being third in digs.
Pitt again needs to communicate with the front line on who is across the net from them. They need to tool their hits against blocks and look for openings. They need to play as error free as possible. Louisville did not and lost.
Pitt just had the biggest win in the history of the program on Sunday with their victory over Minnesota. Pitt’s players were on an adrenaline high after the victory. Coach Fisher hopefully calmed them down. Hopefully they all came down from that natural high, crashed, and slept well. This is going to be crucial for Pitt to win. Pitt is no longer the hunter but the hunted. They cannot feel pressured. No one expected them to be in this spot. That is how they need to play, loose, but under control!
What are Pitt’s chances for victory? In a three set match Pitt wins. That means Pitt came out fast and Washington never recovered. I seriously doubt this happens. Pitt will probably come out flat given the emotional drain of the Minnesota win. I see this match going to four or five sets. In four sets Pitt has a 60% chance of victory. It is a coin toss, if it goes to five sets with only a 50% chance victory. I am counting on the calmness of Coach Fisher to carry over to his team and bring us to victory!
Following are some websites that might help Pitt fans cheer the Women’s Volleyball Team to a 2nd round tourney victory tonight. So, if you can stay awake until the start time of 10:30 pm ET and watch it then good for you because I’ll read about it the next day.
These links can be used for in-game commenting research also. First off the Minnesota Gopherettes:
As for our Panthers – here is some info to read before, during and after the game. Let’s hope we can pull this off. Second round is, I believe, the farthest we have gotten in the NCAA Tournament – correct? Let’s go for three rounds at least.
Third All-Time Meeting vs. Pittsburgh Series tied, 1-1 Last Meeting: 1999 First Meeting: 1990 Last Loss: 1990 Streak: Minnesota, W-1
HEADING INTO THE MATCH
The University of Minnesota is the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the three-seed, Minnesota has a first-round bye and played its opening match of the NCAA Tournament on April 15, as the Golden Gophers earned a 3-0 win (25-19, 25-21, 25-18) over Georgia Tech.
Minnesota had a well-balanced attack as the Gophers had three individuals in double-digit kills. Stephanie Samedy and Adanna Rollins each had 13 kills and hit over .340, while Taylor Landfair had 11 kills. Melani Shaffmaster added a double double with 32 assists and a team-best 16 kills, while Regan Pittman had six blocks. With the win, it solidified Minnesota’s spot in the Regional Semifinal and faces Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The 2021 season marks the 25th year the Golden Gophers have advanced to the NCAA tournament. Minnesota has also advanced to the tournament six-straight seasons and eight under ninth-year head coach Hugh McCutcheon. Minnesota has had a top 10 seed the past six seasons. The Gophers were the No. 2 seed in 2015, 2016 and 2018, No. 3 this year, and the No. 7 seed in both 2017 and 2019. In all, Minnesota has been to six Final Fours since 2003.
The Gophers have also made it as far as nine Sweet 16 berths and two Elite 8 appearances. Now in their 25th NCAA appearance, it marks the 18th Regional Semifinal match in program history and seventh under head coach Hugh McCutcheon. Although the Gophers missed the 2014 championship, Minnesota will now play in their 10th-straight Sweet 16 match when making the tournament.
Minnesota is 8-9 all-time in the Round of 16, including a 4-3 mark under McCutcheon. The Gophers have advanced to the Regional Final in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2019 under McCutcheon. Minnesota competed in a five-set battle against Florida in 2019 and advanced to the Regional Final.
Regan Pittman is closing in on her 500th career block for the Golden Gophers, now sitting at 491. She currently ranks ninth in school history behind former Gopher Paige Tapp, who had 495 in her Gopher career.
Should the Gophers win over Pittsburgh (Editor’s note: Which they won’t ), they would play the winner of Louisville versus Washington on Monday. Match time is set for 11 a.m., on ESPN2.
Pittsburgh earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, its 16th appearance in program history. Sunday’s match marks its first Sweet 16 appearance in school history. The Panthers earned their trip to the Regional Semifinals with wins over LIU (3-0) and upset No. 14 seed Utah (3-0). The Panthers are also riding a 14-match win streak into the Sweet 16.
Kayla Lund leads the Panthers in kills (299), kills per set (3.83), aces (32), digs (242) and points (352.5). Lexis Akeo and Kylee Levers average 5.95 and 5.55 assists per set, while Sabrina Starks averages 1.31 blocks per set. Lund was named ACC’s Volleyball Player of the Year, her second honor back-to-back years. Lund and Chinaza Ndee were named First Team All-ACC, while Starks was named to the second team.
Folks – I’m testing out my audio for starting up some podcasts and round table type discussions. I have a new audio program so let me know if it works in the comments – thanks.
Well, the above seems to work. Now I have a favor to ask of you all. I’d like to do some podcasting but want to talk about things you all are most interested in. Could you take a moment and email me some suggestions you might have that will start some in-depth discussion after listening to the podcast? Left up to me it would be all football, but I hope your suggestions can be better than just that. My email is: email@example.com.
Pitt’s women volleyball team next opponent is the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the mighty Big Ten Conference. The match starts at 1:00 PM on Sunday, April 17th, and will be streamed on ESPN3 just like the first two Pitt matches in the tournament. Pitt and Minnesota have split the two matches they played each other over the years. This year Minnesota finished second in their conference.
Hugh McCutcheon is the Gophers’ coach. Prior to coming to Minnesota, he was the U.S. men’s and women’s national indoor volleyball teams coach at different times. He led the men’s team to a gold medal in the 2008 and the women’s team to a silver medal in 2012. His resume is quite extensive. In short, he is very good at his job!
Minnesota has a record of 16-2. They are ranked #3 in the nation and were seeded #3 in the tournament. They have played one match in the tournament, a three-set sweep over #23 Georgia Tech. Other wins over ranked teams include one win over #4 Nebraska along with two wins over #9 Purdue and #12 Penn State. Their two losses are to #1 Wisconsin and #4 Nebraska. Big Ten Women’s Volleyball had all kinds of Covid problems so Minnesota never played #8 Ohio State and only played one match against #1 Wisconsin. The six Big 10 teams mentioned all made the tournament, were all seeded, and are all still playing. The Big Ten placed the most teams of any conference in the tournament.
The Gophers hitting percentage is 0.267 and the are holding their opponents to 0.190. They serve very well with 99 aces versus 79 errors. They average 2.8 blocks per set versus Pitt’s 2.6. #10 Stephanie Samedy, 6’2”, is their leader. She is an All American, the Big Ten player of the year, and has a multitude of additional awards. #21 Regan Pittman, 6’5” and #12 Taylor Landfair, 6’5”, were also on the First Team All Big Ten team. #20 Adanna Rollins, 6’0” was on the Second Team.
Landfair and # 5 Melani Shaffermaster, 6’3”, were on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Shaffermaster is their setter. They only use one setter and she is not a liability on the front row with her extraordinary height for a setter.
There are four main hitters for the Gophers: Samedy, Landfair, Rollins, and Pittman. All four of them are also among their leading blockers along with Shaffermaster, their setter. Another blocker of note is #9 Shea Rubright, 6’5”.
This is what Pitt faces on paper. Minnesota is very well coached. They have very tall, excellent players. Their setter is an important part of their front row blocking scheme. They have faced a very tough regular season schedule and are used to a high level of competition. On paper things look rather bleak for Pitt.
Not so fast! While Minnesota swept Georgia Tech in three sets, Georgia Tech did not go down quietly. The scores of the three sets were 25-19, 25-21, and 25-18. Pitt in their only meeting with Georgia Tech this year also swept Georgia Tech. The scores of those three sets were: 25-19, 25-23, and 25-19.
There is not that much difference between these two victories although Pitt’s victory was in Pittsburgh. Pitt held Tech to a 0.145 hitting percentage whereas Minnesota held them to a 0.169 hitting percentage.
So, what should Pitt’s strategy be to defeat Minnesota? First thing is not to be intimidated by Minnesota!
Pitt’s players need to go into the match with a chip on their shoulder and be ready! Minnesota’s players will probably be a bit overconfident. After all they just beat another team from that weak ACC conference. Pitt sweeping #10 Utah may have turned the overconfidence down a notch but hopefully not much.
Pitt cannot try to hit over Minnesota’s front line. They need to look for gaps and try to tool the ball off their blocks. They can do this by hitting the ball with spin at angle into the block. Pitt’s setters need to move the ball to hitters that are one-on-one with blockers. Another thing Pitt will be doing on the attack is hitting from the back row. Pitt’s blockers are going to have to use their legs to even out the height disadvantage.
Pitt needs to try to keep the Golden Gophers out of system. Against Utah that was done by serving to their libero. I seriously doubt that would work with a Big Ten libero. Due to their height Pitt needs keep their serves low to the back row. Make them go down to receive the serve.
Similar to their strategy with Utah, Pitt needs to not let Samedy, their leader, dominate the game. She will have good stats at the end of the day but Pitt needs to make her work for every point. Frustrating Samedy may carry over to the rest of the team. The secondary player Pitt needs to concentrate on is Landfair. Unfortunately, even if Pitt can control both of them, Minnesota can win the match with their secondary players. They are deep enough to do that.
There is no way Pitt is going to win this match in three sets. They could lose it in three though if they do not start well. They may win it in four sets though. Ideally Pitt wins the first set. This would blow the confidence of Minnesota. Pitt could then take two of the next three sets. Pitt may be able to win a five-set match also. This is especially true if Pit wins the fourth set. To do this though Pitt needs to come out quickly in the last set and end it at 15.
Here are what I feel the percentages are of Pitt winning the match based on the number of sets. This presumes Pitt serves as well as they have so far in the tournament. In a three-set match Pitt has a 0% chance. This means Pitt got blown out. In a four-set match, I think Pitt has a 50% chance of winning. In a five-set match Pitt has a 40% chance of winning. Pitt’s best chance of winning is winning the first set in a four-set match. I would give Pitt a 60% chance of winning in that scenario. Bring on those Gophers!
If this looks a day late it is. John in SC wrote this and sent it to me about three days ago. I simply forgot to post it in a timely manner. I have apologized to John and now to our readers. That’s what happens sometimes when a blog isn’t the most important thing in one’s life. So I’m posting it now because even though the game has passed the info John shares with us is still valid and important – a teaching tool also as may be.
Pitt women’s volleyball opponent in this year’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament’s second round is the University of Utah Utes from the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-12) conference who are current ranked #10 nationally. The Utes finished third in the conference at the end of the regular season.
In a conference long dominated by Stanford, this year’s conference champion was the University of Washington. The PAC-12 placed five teams in this year’s tournament. This was the second highest total by a conference only behind the six teams placed in the tournament from the Big Ten.
The other three teams from the PAC-12 in the tournament are 2nd place Oregon, 4th place Washington State, and 5th place UCLA. Utah was seeded 14th in the tournament bracket and got a first round bye.
Utah finished the season with a 13-4 record. They played their last match on March 28th. Utes have victories over two ranked teams. The first number in front of the team is their ranking when Utah defeated them, and the second number is their current ranking. 17, 15 UCLA (split series) and 15, 17 Washington State (2nd match cancelled).
Utah’s matches against #22/16 Oregon were cancelled and they lost both matches against #9/7 Washington. Utah was ranked 7th going into their matches with Washington. Utah’s other loss was against Colorado (8-12) on March 1st and is their last loss.
In comparison, Pitt has victories over four teams that were ranked when they played them. They split matches with #6/13 Louisville and #5/22 Notre Dame. They won their only matches with #20/23 Georgia Tech and #25/ (#28) Florida State. The rankings of Louisville and Notre Dame when Pitt played them were during the fall season when the two power conferences of volleyball, The Big 10 and the PAC-12, were not playing.
They would have been ranked about where they both are now if everyone had been playing. Pitt’s other two losses were the first two matches of the fall season against a mediocre Syracuse team (7-8). Pitt was undefeated in the spring season winning all 12 matches they played. Their last loss was Louisville in the last match of the fall season. Pitt’s record is 16-4 and they are currently ranked #19.
Pitt and Utah have met two times previously. Pitt had won both matches. In their last meeting on 9/14/2019 Pitt beat a #16 Utah team 3-1. The match was at a tournament in California.
Utah has a 0.256 hitting percentage and they have limited their opponents 0.159. They have a bit of a service problem with 107 aces versus 127 errors. The Utes are led by All American #1 Dani Drews, a 6’0” senior. She is their leading hitter having more than twice as many kills as the next leading hitter.
The two other hitters of note are #4 Kenzie Koerber, a 6’3” senior, and #13 Madelyn Robinson, a 5’10” junior. Koerber also their best server with 26 aces vs. 20 errors. The best two blockers on the team are #19 Phoebe Grace, a 6’2” RS junior, with 63 and # 10 Kennedi Evans, a 6’2” RS sophomore with 56. Koerber is third in blocks. The Utes only use one setter, #9 Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres,
a 6’0” junior. She is also the team leader in digs. A freshman, #17 Vanessa Ramirez, is the main libero and is second in digs. Interestingly, Drews and Koerber are 3rd and 4th in digs. This indicates they play all six rotations.
In summary the Utes are taller than us but are not very deep in hitters. They have blockers who are not an offensive threat. They only use one setter, and she is also a key part of their defense. They have two players, Drews and Koerber who are very multidimensional in the mold of Pitt’s Kayla Lund.
Dani Drews is the PAC-12 player of the year, was an AVCA 1st team All-American last year and is the leader of the team. Koerber was also all conference. The PAC-12 only has one all-conference team. Honorable mentions were Ka’aha’aina-Torres and Robinson.
Here are the keys to the match and what Pitt needs to do to win. First thing Pitt must do is get off to a quick start and limit the match to no more than four sets.
Here is a wonderful bit of reporting (!) from our friend Annie.
Last night Pitt women’s volleyball played Long Island University (LIU) in the first round of the NCAA Championships held in Omaha. LIU received their bid by default of their opponent in the NEC championship game. LIU is a very young team, with two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and six freshmen. Based on that fact alone, we would expect Pitt to win easily. Pitt won the match 3-0, but it did not look good during the first set.
Set 1: Pitt has a habit of starting out slowly in the first set of their matches, and they followed that pattern again last night. With Kayla Lund at the service line, Pitt took a 6-0 lead to start the match. I was thinking- ‘great, this will be a cake walk’. Yeah, no. The score quickly became 7-5, and I started to get nervous. Pitt was playing out of system, scrambling after balls, missing blocks, and committing hitting errors. Bad passing is usually the main cause of playing out of system.
With the score 11-9 (Pitt), Pitt took a time out. That’s pretty early in the set to do that, and it was badly needed. Hitting and blocking errors continued, and LIU went on a 10-5 run. With the score 15-13 (LIU), Pitt took another time out. I had visions of a first round upset- there had been several already earlier in the day.
Pitt tied the score at 15, then down 15-16, finally went on a 7-0 run to make it 22-16. LIU came back to make it 22-20, then tied the score at 23. Oh no… upset watch begins.
But then Lund gets a kill to get Pitt to set point 24-23. LIU ties it at 24, then Lund gets two consecutive kills to give Pitt the 1st set win 26-24. It should have never been that close. During the set Pitt had 17 kills and hit .156 (a low percentage for success). LIU had 11 kills and hit .154. We needed to do better than that to advance past the 2nd round.
Set 2: Pitt substituted 6’5” Middle hitter Anastasia Russ in for Jordan Lockwood, who hit a negative % in the first set. She quickly gets two kills and two blocks. The team looks energized. Pitts races out to a 10-4 lead, which causes LIU to call T.O. Pitt serving specialist Zoi Faki serves the score to 15-5 causing LIU to use their second T.O.
At 20-10, freshman Cat Flood comes in to serve, which is always a good sign that the coach feels comfortable getting a young player some important playing time. Pitt is really moving well now- the players are blocking and diving for balls. I noted that sophomore Chiamaka Nwokolo was really playing well during this set. Pitt wins set 2 by the score 25-11. Pitt hit .579 with 12 kills for the set, LIU -0.088 on 7 kills.
THAT is what Pitt needs to do to advance! Pitt took total control of the game, and looked like the team we all know they can be.
Set 3: Starts badly, with both team committing service errors (ugh). Russ is in the front line again, with senior captain Chinaza Ndee, Valeria Vazquez Gomez, and then Nwokolo after Ndee rotates out. Pitt goes ahead 9-3 with Kayla Lund more of a presence this set. Blocking was improved too.
LIU wins a challenge to make the score 14-7; at 19-7 there was a really good volley but Pitt lost the point. I can still appreciate the total team effort to keep the ball in play. Pitt lost a challenge at 19-9, but went on to close out the set 25-10 and win the match 3-0. For the set Pitt hit .500 with 13 kills, LIU hit .211 on five kills. With the exception of Set 1 it was a dominating performance.
Lund finished the match with nine kills, nine digs, two service aces and hit .368. Chinaza Ndee had 11 kills, five blocks and hit .333, Chiamaka Nwokolo had six kills, five blocks and hit a scorching .750. Middle hitter Sabrina Starks had four kills, three blocks, two service aces and hit .333.
Valeria Vazquez Gomez had seven kills, four digs and hit .190, and Anastasia Russ had four kills, three blocks and hit 1.000. Not bad for her first playoff game! Both setters had 17 assists each, and totaled 15 digs. LIU’s best hitter had 10 kills and hit .147.
Going forward Pitt needs to have more Set 2 and Set 3-like performances and eliminate the poor play in Set 1. They have so many hitting options, and that is what may give them an advantage over Utah. Because so many of the Panthers play well, it makes it difficult for opponents to set their lineup to stop Lund or Ndee. They may stop one of them, but the rest of the lineup is strong enough to carry their share of the load. The game finished after midnight.
Tonight’s game vs. Utah is on at 10:30 pm again. I hope the players take a good nap beforehand so they are ready to go at the first serve. H2P!
Following are some websites that might help Pitt fans cheer the Women’s Volleyball Team to a 1st round tourney victory tonight. So, if you can stay awake until the start time of 10:30 pm ET and watch it then good for you because I’ll read about it the next day.
These links can be used for in-game commenting research also. First off Long Island University (LIU).
As for our Panthers – here is some info to read before, during and after the game. I expect the following readers watch to the end and write a 300 word essay on what you saw – due by 1:00 am tomorrow morning: Tex, Big B and Richard in SC. I would have put Ike first but we know he needs his beauty rest, although he probably stays up later than me anyway.
Here is a detailed look at the game of volleyball, the Panther’s woman’s volleyball team and NCAA tournament so far. It was written by “John in South Carolina” who is a long time reader who comments now and again. BTW – when I say detailed – I mean detailed!
A little history… Pitt’s women’s volleyball team is in their fifth NCAA tournament in a row. It should have been for the sixth year in a row but six years ago the NCAA volleyball tournament committee did not believe in Pitt’s Head Coach Dan Fisher and his program.
However, Louisville was the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) champion this year. Four teams from the ACC surprisingly made the 48 team bracket this year. Pitt was the best seeded of the other three conference mates. Beside Pitt, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech also made the tournament. Pitt split two matches with Louisville and Notre Dame and swept the only match with Georgia Tech.
Here is a good article about Pitt’s volleyball season and how it got to the tournament.
One thing of note in the article is that Coach Fisher could not work with his players very much due to Covid at the beginning of the season. This lead to two losses to Syracuse to start the season which would not have happened in any normal year, in my opinion. Those two losses cost us the ACC championship.
Coach Fisher is one of Pitt’s coaches that truly develops his players! Pitt’s recruiting class for next year is already signed. They have filled all the positions of need and have one open scholarship assuming all the seniors leave. Coach Fisher is holding this scholarship for a graduate transfer I believe.
If you are new to volleyball or just a casual observer here are the basics. There are six players per side. There are three hits allowed before the ball must cross the net between the two antennae, one on each end of the net. A player is not allowed to touch the net. If they touch the net during a point, the opposing side gets the point.
A block at the net does not constitute a touch. A player cannot hit the ball twice in a row except if the first touch is on a block. A point starts with a serve by the team in possession of the ball. A match end when a team wins three sets. The first four sets in a match are won when a team reaches 25 points. A team must win a set by two points or more. If a fifth set is necessary that set goes only to 15 points. Again the winning team must win by two points. All sets continue until a team wins by two points.
A team keeps servings if they win the point. When the opposing team wins a point they then get to serve. This is called a change of possession. After each change of possession the players rotate in a clockwise manner. During a rotation is also when players are normally substituted. At the serve the players must be in their respective positions to each other on the court.
After the serve, with a couple exceptions, they are free to move around the court. A point starts with a serve. The opposing team receives the serve with the first hit. You cannot block or spike a serve. After the “receive” on the first hit, the setter usually is the next person to touch the ball. She sets the ball for her team’s hitters to kill the ball. If the set is perfect, a hitter will be able to contact it at the top of her leap as close to the net as possible. When all three of these things occur, the team is said to be “in system”.
In other words, this is the ideal way for a team to play. At this point the goal of the other team is to block the kill or dig it. That means one or two of the opposing players get in front of the attacking player and try to stuff her kill back across the net. Blocks are scored and a block can be solo or split by two players. If there is no block a back row player goes to dig the kill and keep it in play. If the kill is successful, the setter gets an assist and the attacking player is credited with a kill.
The kill percentage for a player is the total number of kills minus the number of kill errors divided by total attempts. A kill error is a kill that goes out of bound without anyone touching it. Due to this formula a player and a team can have a negative kill percentage. Players are broken down into hitters/blockers, setters, and defensive specialist/liberoes. (Ed: it’s OK here is a video also) The libero is a defensive specialist that wears an opposite colored jersey than the rest of the team. There are some special rules for liberoes with the most important being that when she goes in and out of the lineup she does not count as a substitution.
There are 12 substitutions allowed per set by a team. A libero only is allowed in the back row, hence the reason she does not count as a substitution. In Division 1 NCAA Women’s Volleyball an institution can have up to 12 players on full scholarship. In order to keep this article manageable I will stop with the basics here.
Pitt this year is playing a 6-2 offense. What that means is Pitt is using six hitters (attackers) and two setters. So, if you are only allowed six persons on the court, how can Pitt be doing this? Simple, by double substituting Pitt always tries to have three hitters at the net and a setter in the back row. Pitt’s two setters are #1 Lexis Akeo and #6 Kylee Levers.
Pitt’s six hitters are led by two-time ACC player of the year and first team All-ACC #23 Kayla Lund. Kayla leads the team in kills. She is also a six rotation player. This simply means as long as she is not tired the coach will let her on the court even when she is in the back row. Kayla is a pretty good server. She also makes a lot of digs. Kayla has a good many double/double games. This means she has had games where she has had double digit kills and double digit digs.
Pitt’s other hitters are first team ACC #5 Chinaza Ndee, second team ACC #11 Sabrina Starks, #18 Jordan Lockwood, #2 Valeria Vazquez Gomez, and #20 Chiamaka Nwokolo. Jordan Lockwood was the Junior College player of the year last year. She led her team to the NCAA Junior College Championship title. She had a slow start in the fall but she is coming on strong now.
When Pitt substitutes usually Lockwood and Akeo come in as a pair. Pitt’s main libero now is sophomore #4 Ashley Browske. She is one of the reason Pitt turned around their season.
At the beginning of the year our starting libero was graduate transfer #9 Marija Popovic from East Tennessee State University. In the fall during some of the matches the opposing teams were actually serving at her, not a good sign for a position considered a defensive specialist. She has been playing better in the spring but Browske is the far better player at this point.
Pitt has one server specialist and that is #10 Zoi Faki. Pitt’s best surprise this year has been Vazquez Gomez. Next year if she continues her development she is the logical heir apparent to Kayla Lund. She is a six position player now if not for Kayla.
All games in this year’s tournament are in Omaha, Nebraska. The first round games are not being played in ideal conditions to say the least. There are no locker rooms for the first round as the games are in a convention center. ESPN is now going to have announcers for all first round games and they will be shown on the ESPN 3 streaming service. ESPN was just going to broadcast the games previously with no commentary. Pitt plays its first match on Wednesday, April 14th at 10:30 PM EDT against Long Island University (LIU) of the Northeastern Conference. This should be a three-set sweep if Pitt is playing up to their potential. LIU was the second-best team in the NEC.
Sacred Heart, the best team, could not field a team for the championship game due to Covid tracing issues. LIU best players are from overseas as they have New York City as a recruiting tool. Fisher is friends with the LIU coach from when they both coached at lower college levels.
Pitt then plays the University of Utah in the second round on Thursday, April 15th at 10:30 PM EDT. Utah drew a bye in this year’s 48 team bracket. I will try to write a follow-up article to look at how Pitt stacks up with Utah this year. Last year Pitt beat Utah, 3-1, at a tournament in California. In the current streak of trips to the NCAA tournament, Pitt has not been able to get it past the second round.
Two years ago Lund got hurt in the first round. Last year they lost to a team they beat in the regular season. Both years the first two rounds were at the Peterson Events Center and hosted by Pitt.
Some things to look for during the LIU match.
How balanced is Pitt’s attack? If the kills are being spread out over the six hitters then it is hard for the opposing team to key on one or two hitters. Pitt has spread out their offense this year better than they have in any year since Coach Fisher arrived.
How is Pitt serving? We should have more aces than service errors. This has been a weakness of Pitt this year. Between evenly matched team, this is the stat that usually decides the match. It also allows a lesser opponent to beat a clearly better team.
Pitt went to five sets with Duke and almost lost the match because of service errors. Ironically they won the match on two service aces. What is Pitt’s hitting percentage? Anything above 0.200 is good. What is the opposing team’s hitting percentage? If we are holding them under 0.100 then we should be winning the match easily. Same holds if we are hitting over 0.300.
For the year Pitt is hitting 0.262 and our opponents are hitting 0.146. If you want to keep stats during a match start with service aces and errors. Next thing to record are number of kills and blocks. A very good sign for Pitt, if there are no injuries, is if Russ, Popovic, and Flood get in the match. Flood has been used a service specialist. That means Fisher is emptying his bench. Even if the match goes to four sets he thinks he is in control of the match and is giving tournament experience to his younger players.