Pitt's volleyball team got its ACC season underway Friday night and came away with an impressive 3-1 win against Syracuse (9-6 / 1-1). The victory was the 100th for head coach Dan Fisher.
Things got off to kind of a slow start for the Panthers (8-4 / 1-0). The team led 15-10 at one point in the first set but then gave it away, losing 21-25. Head coach was visibly not happy and said as much when asked afterward about it.
"I don't know why we came out so flat defensively," said the Pitt coach.
Pitt quickly rebounded, though, and wasn't really challenged a ton after that. The Panthers breezed through the second set, easily winning 25-14, really led by Nika Markovic. Pitt did have a little more trouble in the third but still managed to win, 25-22. Mariah Bell was really big for the Panthers in that set and that was the turning point as Pitt kind of cruised in the fourth set, 25-13, to win the match.
The third set had kind of an interesting ending. Pitt was up 23-20 when play was halted with a Syracuse injury in the middle of the point. That was kind of unfortunate because the Panthers were in control and looked like freshman Chinaza Ndee would get a kill for an easy point. The point was replayed and Syracuse seemingly cut it to 23-22 but Dan Fisher challenged a ball that Pitt felt was tipped by Syracuse before going out of bounds. The replay looked pretty inconclusive but the Panthers won the challenge, went up 24-21, and finished off the set with a point by Layne Van Buskirk, who had a huge fourth set.
Markovic was really the star for Pitt tonight. She had five errors but also by far and away led both teams with 19 kills - five more than Mariah Bell, who had the second most with 14.
The end of the third set really seemed to take any life out of Syracuse and they folded pretty quickly in the fourth. I don't think Syracuse would have won the match even if the Fisher challenge wasn't reversed, but that virtually ended their hopes of doing so as they were incredibly flat in the fourth set.
Syracuse had one of the better blocking teams in the ACC coming into the match. Syracuse won the overall blocks battle (12-7) but got out to a fast start winning that first set. After that, Pitt held their own at the net. Syracuse also made quite a few errors with seven calls in the net and that made the Panthers' win that much easier.
It's been said before but Fisher has really done an incredible job at Pitt. There's only so much you can pay a volleyball coach, I suppose, but man, the Panthers need to do whatever they possibly can to keep that guy. He's taken the program out of obscurity and put them on the map.
Overall, a really strong match for Pitt. It's a solid win over an opponent they should beat. Syracuse is improved over last season but still a program you have to win if you're the Panthers and hoping to get back into the Top 25 rankings. Next up for Pitt is Boston College on Sunday.
As a brief aside, almost every other match is televised on WatchESPN the rest of this season. Here's the full schedule.