For a while, the Pitt volleyball team seemed poised to reach the Final Four. After a win over No. 3 Minnesota to reach the Elite Eight, the Panthers led No. 6 seed Washington two sets to none on Monday. Pitt couldn’t hang on, though, dropping a heartbreaker in five sets for a 3-2 loss.
After taking the first two sets, the Panthers just couldn’t put the Huskies away. The Panthers were dominated in Set 3, 25-16. Even after that, though, Pitt appeared to be in good shape. They came back in Set 4 and nearly had a match point. But Kayla Lund’s body hit the net on a critical play and after a review, a late point was overturned. Washington would go on to win that set 26-24. With pressure mounting in the decisive fifth set, Pitt was handily defeated, 15-9.
Behind 16 kills, Pitt got another huge performance from Chinaza Ndee, who was arguably the best offensive player for the team in the NCAA Tournament. Lund added 13 kills.
There are two ways to look at this outcome, really. The first is to be satisfied that the Panthers even made it that far. Pitt had never won even two matches in an NCAA Tournament before and this time, they won three. And they were tantalizingly close to a fourth with a Final Four appearance. And, of course, the team beat No. 3 seed Minnesota, a powerhouse.
Then you look at how the Panthers held a commanding 2-0 lead against Washington. How they nearly got to the Final Four. And how playing for a National Championship was quite literally right there. Those opportunities don’t come around all that often and if you’re a program like Pitt, you have to seize the few that you’ll get.
It was frustrating — there’s no getting around that. And the players will arguably be a bit down with how things ended, knowing they had Washington on the ropes. But at the end of the day, the season produced far more positives.
Don’t forget — this was a team that had not lost all spring since the season restart. It’s also a team that looked quite shaky after losing two early games to an unranked Syracuse team. Consider that — the highs of the wins against Minnesota, Louisville, Utah, and other NCAA Tournament teams from the ACC in Notre Dame and Georgia Tech — and it was just a great year. The team’s NCAA Tournament run made it even better than the dominant 30-2 season two years ago.
For those that follow the volleyball program closely, the result will be reminiscent of some other close Pitt losses, like the Elite Eight basketball game against Villanova or, to a lesser degree, the football team’s collapse against Cincinnati in that infamous 45-44 game. But the volleyball season seems far less disappointing than those two seasons for the football and basketball teams.
The volleyball team was expected to be good but I don’t know how many would have predicted a trip to the Elite Eight after several key departures from last year’s team. Despite the loss, it was still a season to remember rather than to forget because of the disappointing end.
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