PITTSBURGH — Pitt women’s volleyball won their seventh NCAA tournament game in school history on Friday night when they swept Howard University 3-0 in their first-round match at Petersen Events Center.
Each one of those seven career wins took place in the first round of the tournament.
In the last three seasons, Pitt has made it to the second round each year but has failed to get to the Sweet 16. In 2016 and 2017, they fell to Penn State, and last season lost in 5 sets to Michigan.
But this year has a different feel for the program.
The Panthers are ranked No. 2 in the AVCA D1 Coaches Poll and the No. 6 overall seed in the tournament (both are best in program history).
“This year, we are deeper,” Head coach Dan Fisher said. “We are just a little bit steadier. We are a year older, a little more seasoned, and more confident in tight moments.”
Pitt didn’t always have their best stuff against Howard, but whenever the second and third sets got tight, the Panthers always seemed to be the aggressor to make the next push.
There wasn’t a single player who individually made the difference, but it was a collective effort throughout.
“There’s so much confidence (within our team) knowing that we have a great squad and knowing that anybody, even off the bench can come in and do well,” said Junior Kayla Lund.
Lund was named ACC player of the year on Dec. 2.
Five of Lund’s teammates joined her as All-Conference selections. Junior Chinaza Ndee and Layne Van Buskirk joined Lund as a first-team selection. Hali Hillegas, Stephanie Williams, and Lexis Akeo were second-team selections.
“Just knowing that you have pretty amazing players out there next to you is a lot of fun,” Lund said.
Pitt will now try to break past the second-round barrier that has been in their way since 1982 when they made their first NCAA tournament appearance.
Lund and company will host Cincinnati at 7 p.m. on Saturday for a berth at the Sweet 16.
The Bearcats escaped VCU 3 sets to 1 on Friday at Petersen Events Center. Cincinnati will be making its sixth appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Pitt hosted the Bearcats in the second match of the season in the Panther Challenge and swept them 3-0.
Cincinnati’s young core has had time to gain experience throughout the long season and are led by senior Jordan Thompson, who was named AAC Player of the Year for the third time in her four-year career at Cincinnati.
“We are really excited and know it’s going to be a great rematch,” Lund said.
A veteran-led group like Pitt will undoubtedly be locked in despite the 24-hour turnaround.
“We have all put in so much work this season,” Williams said. “(We) definitely want to fulfill our goal of going deep in the tournament. I’m just really excited and want to keep grinding it out.”