Pitt’s volleyball team seems to be hitting on all cylinders early in the season. This weekend, the Panthers hosted the ‘ChampYinz’ tournament and took care of all three of their opponents in short order to win the event.
Pitt didn’t only win the tournament as expected, but they dominated it. They started by sweeping Ohio State on Friday night, winning in three sets. The Panthers then swept both Green Bay and Duquesne on Saturday. Now 6-0, the Panthers have not even dropped a single set yet this season. No one really even came all that close, to be honest. Ohio State got to 21 in one set but none of the three even go to 20 points beyond that.
Fortunately, after some issues, the WatchESPN access is back up for Verizon users so I was actually able to watch the latter two matches. So what did I see?
Pitt looked very good in both matches. Now, some of that is about the competition. Green Bay and Duquesne, frankly, are not that great. Neither (nor Ohio State) is receiving any votes in the Top 25 poll. All of that said, it was hard not to be pleased.
Pitt’s trio of fantastic hitters in Kayla Lund, Nika Markovic, and Stephanie Williams are still just as dominant as they were last year. Lund won MVP honors and all three played very well. Nothing new there.
True freshman Lexis Akeo, honestly, just looks like she belongs as the setter. The way she hits, sets — it’s all incredibly similar to her sister, Kamalani. She looks like a clone sometimes. She’s not quite as good yet, obviously, but it’s kind of ridiculous just how good she is already and how well she fits into the offense. Her sets were often spot on and it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with tendencies among the hitters, etc. Similarly, the play of new libero transfer Hali Hillegas was notable. She had a bunch of quality digs and didn’t miss too many balls that she realistically should have gotten to, to be honest. It’s also worth pointing out that she was named as the libero on the All Tournament team at the event.
As I’ve said before, it’s the defense from those two that are the keys to Pitt’s season. We know the Panthers have the hitters and it’s a matter of Hillegas’ and Akeo’s ability to deliver them the ball and set up the offense in replacing Angie Seman and Kamalani Akeo, who filled those roles before graduating. For the most part, they are doing that. They had some miscues, including a ball that bounced between two of them in the Green Bay match where there was some confusion. But that’s largely nitpicking and both made a lot more plays than they missed.
Pitt also served very well and picked up a lot of points in that fashion. The Panthers had 15 aces in the tournament combined to only two for their opponents. I’m not a huge ‘aces guy’ in the sense that I’m not sure it ultimately means all that much. It’s still just one point in a match where you need 75 of them to win. But what does matter is how well you serve as a whole, which can allow you to keep opposing teams off guard and out of sync. Some serves are practically as good as an ace. If the other team has to scramble to get the ball over the net and can’t mount a great offensive attack, it’s a win. Stephanie Williams is probably the team’s best server but the Panthers have a few other very good ones in Akeo, Lund, and Markovic. That’s a big advantage and makes a dangerous Pitt team even better.
Next up is a huge match against No. 9 Oregon on Wednesday. The Ducks are 2-0 on the season having swept both of their opponents, unranked UC-Irving and Boston College. These matches were good warmups but that one will give us an idea of just how good Pitt is.