After sweeping Miami on Friday in a challenging road match, Pitt traveled to No. 23 Florida State today. The Panthers responded with another impressive win, taking this one, 3-1.
The match had the look of Pitt’s toughest one remaining on the schedule. But after the first set it didn’t look like the Seminoles would put up much of a fight. No. 4 Pitt took that one rather easily, 25-15.
But Florida State rallied in the second and, if you saw it, it was incredible. That one was back and forth with Florida State taking control, reeling off seven straight points to take a commanding 22-16 lead. Pitt, however, fought all the way back, going on a rally of their own. The Panthers fought back to tie things up at 24 then took the final two points to win it, 26-24. Even head coach Dan Fisher acknowledged during the set break that Pitt sort of stole the set away from Florida State after they had such a commanding lead. The Panthers hit only .159 in that set but that was still more than the Seminoles did and Florida State didn’t hit well in the match at all.
If you expected Florida State to fold after that, you’d have that one wrong. Florida State cruised to a surprisingly easy 25-14 win in the third giving the Panthers their first set loss in ACC play this year. In the fourth, though, Pitt got back to playing sound volleyball and won, 25-19.
Pitt’s incredible comeback in the second set was really the key to the win in my mind. You lose that one and Pitt could have easily found itself trailing, 2-1 instead of leading by that margin. But we’ve seen the Panthers pull that trick before with those kinds of comebacks. While somewhat surprising, it isn’t unheard of to see them storm back and claim a set they appeared to be out of.
Keeping Florida State alive was an impressive defensive performance at the net. They’re led by Taryn Knuth who leads the nation in blocks and is a tough defender. I don’t know how many blocks they ended up with but at one point they had 18, which is just pretty incredible. That defense really made things tough on Pitt and I suspect will give the Seminoles an edge in many other matches going forward.
Having the most difficulty today was Kayla Lund, who, while finishing with double digit kills, also had a ton of errors. At one point she was hitting at under .100 and had 11 errors, though I don’t know the final totals. Lund was routinely stuffed at the net and I can’t recall her ever having that much difficulty getting balls past defenders. I’m sure that opponents will try to mimic what the Seminoles did at the net against her. But doing that without Knuth will probably be easier said than done as Florida State is a great blocking team.
Those blocks took their toll. After being stuffed on one play, Lund came back and hit the ball wildly out of bounds past the back line as she was trying to get past the blockers. Natalie Steibel came in for Lund and immediately did the same thing, causing Fisher to put Lund back in. That front line gave Pitt fits all day.
Finally, speaking of Fisher, he didn’t have a great time out there. He routinely challenged the officials and used all three of his challenges relatively early. That may have come back to bite them because Fisher contested two points in the fourth set but was out of challenges. I’ve never seen a volleyball coach ejected from a match but if that’s really a thing, Fisher seemed to toe the line, even challenging the official on plays where the right call seemed to have been made. He was correct on his first two challenges and, while you don’t want to slow down a match too much, it kind of makes sense for a coach to be able to earn a challenge back.
Fisher has routinely used up challenges early on in matches and I can’t remember a situation where it really cost him. But you wonder if he sort of learned a bit from today. Is challenging a ball in, say, the middle of the second set, really worth it? The counter to that is, a coach may not feel like he will have more than three plays where he needs to use a challenge — so maybe you use them as you feel is warranted, even if that’s early in the match. But I would be surprised if the challenge situation didn’t change his line of thinking a little. Those challenges can get very important to have in the later sets and in a closer match, not having them could have hurt.
Next up for Pitt is Syracuse on Friday and then Boston College on Sunday. I’m not sure how the schedule was designed but it’s road heavy for Pitt to start the ACC. Five of the team’s first six matches will have been away from home.