PITTSBURGH — Dan Fisher has turned Pitt Volleyball into a program that will undoubtedly be remembered. With countless names and numbers in the record books over his seven seasons as head coach, it’s still the heartbreaks that seem to try and outweigh the positives.
On Saturday, Fisher’s team lost 3-2 (26-24, 21-25, 25-16, 21-25, 13-15) to the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was the fourth straight season that the Panthers’ had made it to the Round of 32, but fell short of doing something that the program had never done in its history (make the Sweet 16).
“It’s hard when you lose because your brain just focuses on the negative,” Fisher said. But there are so many positives — I’m proud of the team.”
The Panthers’ season ended with a 31-2 record. Pitt’s senior class may go down as the most accomplished class in program history, despite ending their final season in gut-wrenching fashion.
The five student-athletes (Layne Van Buskirk, Stephanie Williams, Hali Hillegas, Nika Markovic, and Alix Dreier) that are leaving the program can say that they were apart of a program that was one 32 best teams in the country for four-straight seasons. … They can say that they built something bigger than just an individual accolade. … And they can say that they built a program that will continue to grow and what they accomplished will impact the careers of everyone who chooses to be apart of Pitt volleyball in the future.
“It’s just a group that has really built this program up,” Junior Chinaza Ndee said. “I’m just really grateful that I get to call them my sisters,”
College athletics is precious, and nothing is guaranteed. From afar, people may have had the perception that Pitt would prance into the Final Four, because of their No. 2 ranking in the AVAC Coaches Poll and because of their undefeated (18-0) conference record.
But that was never a thought for the Pitt coaches and players that walk on the court every day and know that 329 other teams are striving for the same goal.
Just two weeks from now, Pitt will be the school hosting the Final Four at PPG Paints Arena.
“There was a lot of talk about the Final Four being in Pittsburgh this year, and I don’t think the average fan understands how good the Round of 32 is, how good each team is,” said Fisher following his team’s early exit. “The margins are small. So just getting to the Round of 32 is really hard.”
The fans at the Pete didn’t hold back when showing their support after seeing the Panthers try to cope with defeat. As the team held their heads following the match, the crowd rose to their feet and showed their admiration for the team’s efforts throughout the season.
“Having an undefeated season is like a dream,” Fisher said. “There’s just a lot of things to be grateful for.”