PITTSBURGH — For the last three seasons, Pitt volleyball has gone through a period of incredible success. The Panthers have won three straight Atlantic Coast Conference titles, qualified for four straight NCAA Tournaments and have hosted home tournament games in each of the past two seasons.
But they’ve done it on a razor-thin margin.
Pitt has won without landing some of the more talented recruits in the country. The Panthers have not had a true home court advantage, something that was particularly noticeable when hosting in the postseason. Playing in a relatively weak ACC, the Panthers have had to scramble to play as many quality non-conference opponents as possible in order to impress the tournament committee, something that can be tough to do without an attractive home court.
But last Tuesday’s announcement of a new, 3,500-seat arena for Pitt’s gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling programs as part of Heather Lyke’s Victory Heights vision for new athletics facilities on Pitt’s upper campus could change all that.
At least, that’s the hope of volleyball head coach Dan Fisher.
“I’m so proud of the kids we have and one of the reasons I’m so proud is because of how few Top 50 kids we’ve gotten,” Fishers said at Tuesday’s unveiling ceremony. “We’ve really built a nice program without getting top kids.”
But that’s come with pitfalls. Pitt has been upset in the postseason two seasons in a row after needing to be nearly perfect throughout the regular season in order to maximize their seeded.
More top flight players would help give the Panthers a much-needed respite from needing to fight tooth and nail for every point season-long.
“The best chance to have sustained success is to start getting those kids,” Fisher said. “And when you’re talking to the top in the nation, every single thing matters. Your school ranking, the coaches, the facilities, everything matters. We’ll be able to show them how important volleyball is at the University of Pittsburgh.”
All three teams that currently play in the Field House have had some level of recent success, with gymnastics also earning a conference championship and NCAA Tournament bid in 2018 and Pitt sending five wrestlers to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
But the persistent success of the volleyball program under Fisher has helped bring that team’s necessity for a new playing venue to the forefront of many people’s minds.
“Volleyball has raised the awareness of how you can be successful here at Pitt,” Lyke said.
For the players whose on-the-court impacts have helped pave the way for the new building, most of them probably won’t get to play there. Construction isn’t scheduled to start until 2021 and be completed by 2023.
“We do love the Field House and it’s really special. We’ve made it our home,” junior Kayla Lund said. “But to kind of see our work pay off to such a bigger part of the program and get to see the new potential and the new growth the program can have with these facilities, it’s really special.”
There’s no question that the new building will help attract top recruits. With a brand-new facility that can be the match of the top ones around the country, top flight programs should want to come to Pitt.
if a full house will follow for the ultra-successful volleyball team, that could create a home-court advantage that can lift the Panthers to new heights.