After nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Pittsburgh Panthers held home-court advantage over the second-ranked Louisville Cardinals this afternoon in a packed Fitzgerald Field House. With this win, the Panthers now have sole possession of first place in the ACC, as well as a 20-2 (10-0 in ACC) record on the season. With this marquee win, coupled with the losses by the first and second-ranked teams (Texas and Louisville) the AVCA standings released tomorrow could see Pitt potentially finding a way into the top five ranked teams in the country.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
This signature win started off looking like the Panthers would run rampant, potentially even sweep the Cardinals. Pitt went up two sets to nothing, neutralizing the potent Cardinal attack and holding them to a –0.041 hitting percentage as a team to that point. The Cardinals were rather sloppy in comparison to their usual playstyle, with 18 attack errors doubling the Panthers’ 9.
On the offensive end, the Panthers saw contributions from the likes of Julianna Dalton, Chiamaka Nwokolo, and Valeria Vasquez Gomez but the main stars were certainly Courtney Buzzerio and Serena Gray. Gray and Nwokolo were key in limiting Louisville’s offensive efficiency, with 13 total blocks between both throughout the whole match. With 2021 All-American 3rd team outside hitter Anna DeBeer sidelined for Louisville with an injury, Louisville looked hopeless through the first two sets, but they would come roaring back.
LOUISVILLE COMES BACK:
With Pitt up 22-20 deep in the 3rd set, the Cardinals burst out of the corner they were backed into. A kill from Nena Mbonu with the score line sitting at 26-25 in favor of Louisville would give the Cardinals life, as well as the 3rd set. The Cardinals appeared to have righted the ship in a massive way, cutting their attack errors by a third in both the 3rd and 4th sets as well as bumping their team hitting percentage into the .200s in both sets. They were led offensively by Claire Chaussee, who finished the match with a team-high 17 kills. Amaya Tillman, Phekran Kong, and Aiko Jones of Louisville did their best to send Panther fans home upset, forming what seemed to be an impenetrable wall of blocks. Between the three of them, they had 24 blocks in the match, six of them coming in the 3rd set, giving the Cardinals something to rally behind. After a 25-20 4th set in favor of Louisville, this matchup of ACC giants went to a decisive 5th set with major conference and national implications on the line.
FIFTH AND FINAL:
The 5th set served as a microcosm of the match, with the Panthers jumping out to a commanding lead early, only to watch it fade. Up 9-4, the Panthers seemed powerless to close it out, watching their lead shrink and wither away. After losing six consecutive points to forfeit the lead, Courtney Buzzerio had enough and took the match into her own hands. With kills on four of the last six Panther points, the star transfer finished with a ludicrous 22 kills, her 22nd coming on match point. The Panthers clinched the 5th set 15-12, sending the Fitz into a frenzy.
PITT STAT LEADERS:
Kills: Courtney Buzzerio (22)
Blocks: Chiamaka Nwokolo (8)
Assists: Rachel Fairbanks (37)