Pitt’s volleyball team put up a little bit of a fight on Sunday against NC State, but were beaten 3-1 for their first ACC loss of the season.
Not much really went the Panthers’ way. Pitt dropped the first set, 25-21 then looked really good in winning the second, 25-15. You sort of got the idea that the team was going to turn it around after that but that wasn’t the case. The Panthers lost the third, 25-19 and then dropped the fourth 25-18.
The loss ended a remarkable 13-match winning streak and Pitt is now 16-5 overall and 9-1 in the ACC. The loss also allowed NC State, also 9-1, to catch them in the conference standings.
Pitt was just really off the entire day. Nika Markovic and Kayla Lund both had really good weekends against North Carolina on Friday and NC State on Sunday. But Stephanie Williams and Chinaza Ndee, two players that are generally among the best on the team, didn’t have great days on Sunday. Even Kamalani Akeo, the team’s incredible setter who rarely misses a beat, had sort of an off day as well. They just didn’t play as well as they typically do, which was unfortunate because this was a match they could have really used to give them some separation in the ACC.
A couple of things stuck out to me while watching on Sunday. First, NC State did a great job of not allowing many free balls. Those, essentially, are when the offense makes a mistake and a team has to simply hit the ball over net to keep play going. Those are generally light hits of the ball over the net and gives the other team a chance to capitalize and set up their offense. Even when the Wolfpack didn’t get a great set and had to hit in an awkward position or from the back line, they still got off a hard shot and on several occasions got points out of it from a Pitt mishit, etc. They didn’t give the Panthers anything easy.
Second, Pitt had a difficult time getting the ball past NC State defenders. Sometimes, they came up short and hit the ball into the net. Ndee had at least one of those and Layne Van Buskirk, the team’s tallest player at 6’3”, had one that she probably should have put away for a kill. Pitt also hit into NC State blockers and also sometimes (in an effort to avoid the block), hit the ball out of bounds. The front line, aside from Nika and Kayla, really struggled against NC State’s front line.
In the grand scheme of things, this was a fairly big loss but it won’t be a bad one at the end of the year. And I still think the Panthers could be the top team in the ACC. NC State looked good Sunday, but they just lost to North Carolina in the middle of the week - a team that Pitt swept on Friday.
There’s still a lot of season left and Pitt has ten matches remaining. We’re still a long way from settling the conference and while winning Sunday would have helped, the Panthers are still tied at the top of the ACC standings.
The next four matches will tell us quite a bit about this team. The Panthers have a tough stretch coming up (more on that later), starting with a road trip to Louisville on Friday.