Pitt’s No. 3 ranked volleyball team swept Boston College on Sunday to move to 17-1 on the season. The Panthers remain perfect in conference while today’s loss was the first ACC loss for the Eagles, who dropped to 14-5 overall. Things, though, were much more difficult than it sounds.
First things first. I have no idea who was behind the curtain at AT&T Sportsnet today but the televised match cut to commercial three times while action was going on, missing several points. The match started late due to a previous one running long and maybe they were trying to fit commercials in. But the third time was during match point, for crying out loud, so fans never even saw the Panthers actually win. How that happens in a televised game is beyond me.
This will be overlooked and not even mentioned anywhere because it was college volleyball. But if it was football, they would have a lot of explaining to do. Completely unacceptable and zero chance that happens for a ‘major’ sport. If it was a mistake, it’s unacceptable because it happened three times. And if it was intentional, that’s just flat out embarrassing.
To the actual match, like they did on Friday, Pitt had a really tough first set. It was back and forth and Pitt had to hang on for a 25-23 set win. Pitt had to really fight back in the second set. Boston College got off to a fast start and many teams might have conceded that set. But Pitt rattled off nine points in a row at one point and closed that one out, 25-22.
Down 2-0, the Eagles hardly gave up, though. In the third, they raced out to another commanding lead and put Pitt’s back up against the wall, leading 14-8 at one point. Like they did in the second, though, Pitt stormed back again. The Panthers took that one 25-23.
Pitt just continues to wear teams down and prove that no lead is safe. Strip away the team names and Pitt’s ranking and you wouldn’t have expected them to come back from those deficits in the last two sets. But the Panthers just take things to another level when they get behind. They have an incredible ability to string points together when they are losing a set.
A while back, I wrote that I would expect teams to emphasize blocking schemes and try to emulate what Florida State did defensively in their great effort against Pitt. Even though the Seminoles didn’t succeed, that was a blueprint for how to beat Pitt and the Eagles did the same exact thing. I don’t know if Boston College had a reputation of being as tough up front as they were today or if they just succeeded more than normal against the Panthers. But Boston College was incredible defensively in terms of blocking Pitt’s talented hitters and that made for a very difficult match.
The Eagles’ problem was that, while Boston College was impressive up front, Pitt’s own blocking was even better. Pitt didn’t hit well at all (.171) but Boston College (.112) was even worse. I don’t know that I can recall seeing a better effort up front from Pitt. Sabrina Starks and Chinaza Ndee combined for 24 blocks and were just an amazing tandem. Ndee had some troubles on offense with Boston College’s blockers early but recovered and actually led the team in kills with 12. Here’s the full box score.
Before I get out of here, I’ve got one more point. The ACC is not regarded as a tough conference and that has been Pitt’s problem in terms of perception from those on the outside. That perception is not likely to change anytime soon. Only two other ACC teams were ranked in No. 23 Florida State and No. 25 Louisville — and the Seminoles just lost to North Carolina today. But it’s clear that there are several good teams in conference. Both Florida State and Louisville are good. But Boston College proved they are a player, too. Same with Notre Dame, who is 13-3 and getting votes in the poll.
Despite that, my guess is that the conference is not likely to get a lot more respect this year. My larger point, however, is that expecting Pitt to have a cakewalk through the conference is unreasonable. Pitt has lost only three conference matches the last two years combined and that’s just a very tough thing to do when teams are gunning for your every night out. I think this is probably Pitt’s best team of those three years (and probably of all time) but it’s still very tough to win and win and win.
That said, can Pitt get through the ACC undefeated? It’s possible based on how close they came each of the last two years. They will not face another team as strong as them. But as we saw last year with the Duke upset, the better overall team doesn’t always win. But while Pitt is the class of the conference, there are at least four very good teams here. If the Panthers do trip up once or twice along the way, it hardly means they still aren’t among the best in the nation. The ACC is probably a bit better than some people think and even though they were swept today, Boston College still has the look of a very good team.