Pitt's volleyball team has some high expectations this year after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in more than a decade. But the Panthers had an incredibly tough test to start the year at the University of Washington's Husky Invitational this weekend.
There, Pitt first faced No. 3 ranked host Washington and then played No. 9 Creighton before ending with a match against St. Mary's.
Playing two top ten teams to begin the season is just a really difficult thing and, as you might expect, the Panthers struggled a little.
Pitt was swept in the opener against Washington losing all three sets but it really could have been different. They easily lost the first set but were in complete control in the second and up, 21-14, needing only four more points to even things up. But a Washington rally got them closer and the Huskies ultimately won the set 26-24. That had to take the air out of the tires and Washington easily won the third set, 25-16 to take the match. Had Pitt been able to hold onto that second set, the match could have gone much differently.
The Panthers were then swept by Creighton the next day and unfortunately, the team couldn't hold another second set lead. Pitt pulled ahead and led 22-20 but ultimately fell, 25-22.
When you lose the first two sets in a match, it's really difficult to get up for the next one and make a match of things. Pitt dropped the third set to Creighton, 25-17, and failed to win a set in their first two matches.
The good news is that the competition wasn't as stiff in the third match of the tournament and Pitt was able to pull out a five-set win against St. Mary's. I was surprised to see the St. Mary's match finish so close. They were only 11-18 last year and I expected to see Pitt dominate that one. But it was also the Panthers' second match of the day and maybe they weren't at full strength. The important thing is that they avoided what could have been a bad loss on their resume.
It's hard to take too much away from this weekend. Had the Panthers come out with two wins, it would have been a major success but getting one was the more expected result. It would have been nice to see the first two matches a little more competitive from a set standpoint but they also played well in those second sets in each matchup so it wasn't a complete blowout.
Next up for the Panthers is the Dayton Invitational next weekend as the team will face Dayton and Iowa State. Things don't get much easier there, either. Both teams are in the Others Receiving Votes category of the current rankings and will be tough tests. Dayton, you might recall, was ranked No. 23 last season when the Panthers ousted them in the NCAA Tournament, so they'll be looking for revenge.