The Pitt volleyball team got off to a slow start, but prevailed for a sweep over Iona in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, 3-0.
The win, however, was heavily dampened by the fact that Pitt lost Kayla Lund to an injury during the match. She injured her leg on a play and couldn’t put any weight on it at all as she was helped off the court.
If there’s one thing that could derail this team, it’s an injury to a key player. And that’s what we had here as Lund is arguably the team’s best all-around player. The team inserted Zoi Faki, who has done great work off the bench and could arguably start for some programs. She struggled a little tonight but she’s been better and I expect will be able to fill in okay. But if Pitt has to forward without Lund, that’s a big, big loss that cannot be understated.
The Panthers didn’t look real sharp in the first set. I’ve seen them play worse, but Iona made some plays and just refused to allow Pitt to get on a roll. The Gaels even led late in the set forcing Pitt to rally and come up with some key points late for a 26-24 win. Pitt has had some slow starts this year so it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. The good news is they picked things up a lot.
Pitt looked much more focused in the second set and quickly built up a lead. Iona didn’t completely give it away but the Panthers still grabbed a comfortable 25-18 win. That carried into the third, despite the Lund injury as Nika Markovic led the way as Pitt continued to dominate, winning easily, 25-15.
Overall, I thought Pitt played fine. The offense wasn’t as good as it could have been as Pitt was forced to settle for less than optimum hits over the net. It definitely got better as the match went on but early on, the offense wasn’t really clicking on all cylinders like it has other times in the year. Sometimes the sets were off. Other times, hitters mistimed their jumps. Just a lot of miscommunication, it seemed. Lots of odd stuff going on, for whatever reason. Some ugly hitting errors and I thought, in particular, Chinaza Ndee was really off. But they were the better team and still had enough to win.
Back to the Lund injury, Pitt has been extremely fortunate from a health standpoint this year. Nika Markovic missed a little time early in the year, if I recall correctly, but that’s really been about it. The Panthers have just not been affected by injuries this season.
Can Pitt get by without Lund if they have to? Well, they’re equipped with plenty of firepower on offensive with Markovich, Layne Van Buskirk, and Stephanie Williams, among others. They didn’t miss a beat tonight without her in there. But it’s one fewer option and, as stated, Lund may be the team’s best player for my money. Maybe it’s Markovic. Regardless, Lund is a big reason they’ve been as good as they have been. I can see them winning without her but it’s a big loss if she’s out. There’s no sugarcoating it and while they didn’t need her tonight, the competition will be much stiffer later.
Nice opening win for the team. There’s no time to relax, though. Volleyball is a little different from the NCAA basketball tournament as there’s no break in between games here. They’ll now face No. 18 Michigan tomorrow night as the Wolverines swept Navy earlier today.