The No. 6 Pitt volleyball team swept both North Dakota and North Carolina last week. Today against NC State, though, the Panthers received a far stiffer challenge before ultimately winning, 3-1.
The match was on AT&T SportsNet locally so it was a rare treat to actually get onto cable TV. And if you happened to watch, you saw just how close it was, despite the fact that it didn’t go five sets.
Pitt narrowly won the first set, 25-22, and had to come back late to do it. When they went up 6-0 in the second set, I expected NC State to fold pretty easily after that. But NC State fought back and not only got back in it, but took a set of their own, 25-22, to tie the match, 1-1.
The Panthers, though, weren’t backing down. NC State played them tough, but Pitt prevailed in the third set, 25-20, and then in the fourth, 25-23.
The biggest surprise for me was that NC State was only 9-8 coming into this match. This was a team that seems better than their record. Now, Pitt did make its share of mistakes. Okay, a lot of them, actually. They had an uncharacteristic 27 errors today and to give you some perspective, they had 28 in two matches against North Dakota and North Carolina combined. Pitt’s serve today wasn’t real effective, either. The team had ten service errors and to give away that many points in such a close match can be a problem. But even despite Pitt’s mistakes, I was still pretty impressed with NC State today, particularly up front. They had 17 blocks and really made it difficult for the Panthers’ hitters to get in any kind of consistent rhythm.
Nika Markovic led the team in kills and backup setter Kylee Levers kept running a slide play with Layne Van Buskirk that became a good source of offense for Pitt. Part of what makes for an effective setter is unpredictability in who they’re going to set. In that regard, I thought Levers even became too predictable in that she seemed to go to Van Buskirk more often than not. But to her credit, it was something that seemed to work almost every time so why mess with it?
The Panthers’ offense was disrupted by that aforementioned great front line defense. Hitters were repeatedly stuffed at the net and even the threat of blockers sent a good number of the team’s shots into the net or too long and out of bounds.
Pitt also didn’t get a great day from their best player, Kayla Lund. She still managed to get into double digits in kills and made a fantastic play from the back line to put Pitt up 24-23 in the fourth set. But she didn’t have nearly the impact she typically does and just had a bit of an off day. At least for her.
The encouraging thing here is that Pitt still managed to find a way to win. I’m not sure how many teams can overcome 27-error days when facing a halfway decent opponent - let alone still manage to win without needing a fifth set. You really have to admire the way they fought under pressure when every set was so close.
This is really just the perfect example of why it’s so difficult to go undefeated in any sport, even when playing in a somewhat weak conference. On any given day, you can get an opponent playing better than they typically would. And NC State getting the match at home in front of what looked like a pretty animated crowd probably helped their cause, too.
Pitt will likely be favored in the rest of their matches this season. But to beat every single team is usually too much to ask for.
Next up, the Panthers have home matches up with Notre Dame and Louisville over the weekend.
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