For a while, Pitt voleyball looked ready to pull off one of the NCAA tournament's big upsets, but in the end, Penn State was too strong, defeating the Panthers, three sets to one.
Pitt came out hot right out of the gate and won the first set, 25-20. The crowd was pretty raucous compared to what they've dealt with most of the year and I was impressed with how much poise they played with. I can't speak for the girls on the team but honestly, I think it was the best set I've seen them play this year. They got some breaks but mostly played soundly and looked really strong. Even back line hits were strong and went for a few kills.
The second set was a different story and Pitt looked like a completely different team. Penn State played much better and that had a lot to do with it. There's no doubt that for Penn State was a completely different team as well in that set. But I also thought Pitt tried to get a little too cute at times, opting for light taps trying to hit the open court instead of going for a spike at the net. Pitt does that quite a bit and has been successful with it, so it's hard to argue too much. But a few times, it looked really out of place and didn't catch Penn State off guard in the slightest. Penn State got an early lead and never looked back.
It was more of the same to start the third set and Pitt just never recovered. They did play better and made things a bit closer, so it was nice not to see them fold up and close up shop. But the Nittany Lions were just too strong up front, even against Pitt's formidable front line.
Penn State really threw it into high gear after that first set. It was sort of the perfect storm with them not playing well and Pitt playing out of their minds. But they really cleaned Pitt's clock after that slow start.
I know the team or coach Dan Fisher probably doesn't want to hear about this right now but, man, what a year. The Panthers not only got over the hump to get into the NCAAs, but played well enough to win a match and took the first set from a Top 15 team on their home court. Don't forget, too, that while this was new territory for Pitt, Penn State makes the NCAAs annually. Given the circumstances, it's very hard to be upset with the way they played today and this season.
I touched on this before and I'll look at it a little closer later on, but Pitt returns nearly everyone from this team. The loss of middle blocker Jenna Potts will be tough but the team at least has a foundation with Layne Van Buskirk, who played very well this year as a freshman. They have a great chance to make the NCAAs again next year and perhaps even build on things.