Pitt was a combined 48-15 heading into this year in head coach Dan Fisher's first two years with the Panthers. Despite that success, the team hadn't made the NCAA Tournament.
The third time was the charm.
With a 24-8 record (including 14-5 in the ACC), Pitt's women's volleyball team made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 on Sunday night. The Panthers will face Dayton in the first round at State College. Should they get by 30-1 Dayton, they'd be likely to face No. 16 overall seed Penn State on their home court.
The team, understandably, was pumped. Here was the reaction from their watch party:
Pitt's first game against Dayton will be at 5:00 p.m. this Friday. You'll be able to see it on WatchESPN.
Here's the full bracket. Volleyball's works a little different than the basketball bracket. In volleyball, they seed the Top 16 teams - hence the missing numbers after that.
I've watched the team all year this season, catching almost every game when they were televised/on ESPN3, and they can really play. Their resume looked solid, but I felt they should have made it last year and they didn't, so you never know. But overall, there was a lot to like about what they accomplished. They were 3-1 against Top 25 teams they faced, including a massive win over ACC champions North Carolina. The Panthers were the only ACC team, in fact, that beat the Tar Heels all year, so that was a key victory.
Pitt also played well down the stretch. They had a pretty front-loaded schedule, so they really needed to clean up at the end. And they did. The Panthers missed out on beating Duke but won the other ten games in their last 11. Despite the weakened competition, that was very impressive.
Regardless of what happens in the tournament, the program is in good hands, too. Pitt loses senior middle blocker Jenna Potts and Maria Genitsaridi, but that's it. Potts is a huge star for the team, but the Panthers return almost all of their other production next season. Freshman middle blocker Layne Van Buskirk, for example, is one of the most efficient hitters in the ACC and should fill Potts' role nicely. At 6'3", she's often been the tallest player on the court and is a fine blocker and striker - especially for her age.
I'm not only excited to see them in the NCAAs but also really looking forward to what this team can do next year. They have a lot of talent coming back, including all of their big hitters, including Mariah Bell, Stephanie Williams, and Nika Markovic - two of which are freshmen. To have so many freshmen playing big roles on an NCAA Tournament team tells you the program is in good shape going forward. Losing Potts, the school's all-time blocks leader, will be big, but there's just a lot of talent coming back.
Congrats to the volleyball team on a special year. Check them out on Friday.