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No. 19 Pitt volleyball defeats Miami and Duke over weekend — but ACC situation remains murky

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Pitt’s volleyball team continued its hot streak over the weekend with back-to-back victories over Miami and Duke. The wins moved the No. 19 Panthers to 11-4 on the season and kept them undefeated in the spring.

For what it’s worth, the wins didn’t come as easy this time around. Pitt had been steamrolling its opponents this spring, dropping only a single set through five matches. But the Panthers got a bit more competition this weekend, from two unlikely foes.

Pitt mostly dominated Miami on Saturday, winning Sets 1 (25-17), 3 (25-16), and 4 (25-20) fairly easily. Even that fourth set which appeared a bit closer required Miami going on a bit of a run late. Set 2, though, was disastrous for the Panthers. The final score, 25-19, was respectable. But only after the Panthers went on a late run to make things a little more interesting. Pitt’s offense, in particular, was often out of system and the team had a slew of service errors in what was their ugliest set of the spring.

On Sunday, things were much closer. The Panthers needed five sets to dispense of Duke and even trailed in the match, dropping the first set, 25-20. Pitt would rebound to take the next two quite easily, 25-15 and 25-11. It looked like they had come to life but then lost a disappointing fourth set, 25-19. In the fifth and final set, scheduled to go to 15, Pitt needed ‘overtime,’ before finally prevailing, 22-20 (you have to win the set by two).

Miami is a legitimately solid team but Duke taking Pitt to the limit was a bit of a surprise. The Blue Devils are only 8-9 on the year and are not the type of team you’d expect to push the Panthers this much. But Duke has given Pitt trouble before out of the blue. It was reminiscent of the famous 2018 match when (technically only two seasons ago) a mediocre Duke team gave Pitt their only ACC loss of the year. Fortunately, the Panthers had enough in the tank to win this one.

The Panthers should be due up for another bump in the rankings but have a busy week ahead of them. First, they will take on West Virginia in a Backyard Brawl on Wednesday. On Friday, they’ll face a stiff test in No. 25 Florida State. Then on Sunday, they’ll get North Carolina, who isn’t ranked but is ahead of them in the ACC standings.

Speaking of, Pitt clearly as work to do to try to win ACC Conference for a fourth straight year. Currently, they’re fifth in the standings with one more loss than Notre Dame and North Carolina, and two more than Louisville and Georgia Tech. The Panthers also don’t have the luxury of additional games between any of teams, except for the Tar Heels. Those teams do have some head-to-head matchups but Pitt will need a bit of help to stake a claim to a fourth conference title in a row.

That the team finds itself in this position is sort of a shame. They were stuck in the most difficult group in the fall reshuffling and are now the hottest team in the conference with a seven-match winning streak. They’ve also beaten Georgia Tech and split with Notre Dame and Louisville. Then again, the team didn’t help itself by losing both of its opening matches with Syracuse, an unranked, weaker ACC foe. Had the Panthers merely taken care of business there, they would have a great shot of at least a share of the conference title.

The team is a much different one now than it was early in the year as they struggled with major lineup changes. But unfortunately, those games count just as much as these recent ones do — even though they were nearly six months ago.

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