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No. 20 Pitt volleyball dominates first two matches to open season

The Pitt volleyball team opened its season on Friday with matches against Butler and No. 24 Cal Poly as part of the Panther Challenge. The Panthers won both and are off to a 2-0 start to the season.

Pitt swept Butler but I honestly thought the team looked really rusty in that match. That had me kind of concerned as the Panthers still had to face ranked Cal Poly later in the night. Despite that start, Butler looked far worse, which was kind of surprising as they are considered one of the top teams in the Big East this year. Pitt wasn’t bad, per se, but they were clearly shaking off some rust. Fortunately for them, Butler wasn’t very good.

Pitt won the first set 25-14 before narrowly winning the second, 25-23. They were more dominant in the third, taking that one 25-12.

A major scare occurred in that opener as starter Stephanie Williams went out with a leg injury. Williams broke her foot and missed most of her freshman year so I’m sure that was on the mind of folks watching that are familiar with the team. She went to the bench briefly and then left the court, not returning in the match. But she was ready for the night game and appears to be fine. Junior Zoi Faki hasn’t played much as a member of the team but got the nod in her place.

Pitt then took on likely their toughest opponent this weekend in No. 24 Cal Poly. I wrote earlier that it was important for Pitt to do whatever they could to win this one. In the ACC, they won’t have many chances at ranked opponents this year and this was one of the few they might face all year. That’s going to be important for their own standings in the Top 25 this season and also if they happen to slip and look more like a bubble NCAA Tournament team. I don’t think that will happen but having a quality win like this one should be is nice to get this early in the year.

Things got off to a slow start in that match as they dropped the first set, 25-22. But Pitt rebounded for a great second set, as they won, 25-15. They continued looking good in the third, taking that one, 25-17, before finishing them off for a 25-19 fourth set win. I knew Pitt would have to play better than they did against Butler and I thought they did, despite having a hitting percentage that was only a little better and about the same number of errors per set. The team just looked crisper to me and resembled the one that was so good last year.

Personnel wise, things went about as expected. Pitt opened the season with starters Nika Markovic, Chinaza Ndee, Kayla Lund, Stephanie Williams, Kamalani Akeo, and Angela Seman. That was the lineup for a good chunk of last season and what I expected it would be. But Layne Van Buskirk played a ton as well, which was again to be expected.

One personnel note is that there was quite a bit of setter Kylee Levers. Levers is only a sophomore that didn’t play a ton last year. She will have a much bigger role this season, which is important as the Panthers will lose Akeo, the senior starting setter. Levers set two really nice games in my opinion and had pretty good ball placement, setting up her hitters well. I was a little concerned for next year with Pitt losing Akeo as well as Seman, the starting libero. But based on what I saw Friday, Levers looks entirely capable at setter and will still have two years to grow into the position.

A final comment on personnel is that we saw a little bit of true freshman Sabrina Starks. Starks is a 6’2” middle hitter that was a solid recruit. I don’t know how much of her this season with Ndee and Van Buskirk so good in the middle but to see her in the first game shows head coach Dan Fisher feels like she can play. I didn’t notice any of the other true freshmen get in either game.

Pitt had a really good day on Friday and will look to knock off Pepperdine on Saturday.

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