The Pitt Volleyball team was seeking its first-ever win against a top-ranked opponent in its regular season finale, but fell 3-1 to Louisville Wednesday at the Fitzgerald Field House in front of 3,052 fans.
Pitt’s setback also ends a streak of 33 consecutive matches won during the month of November.
“You’re always nervous against a good team and we have a lot of respect for their program,” Pitt right-side hitter Chinaza Ndee said. “I think we came in with the weight this game deserved and it kind of showed, especially in the first two sets, we were a little tentative. We had something to prove, wanting to win a statement game like this. This is a good team and you are playing in front of a lot of people, this was a packed crowd so we wanted to put on a show.”
Pitt’s setback came without two-time ACC Player of the Year Kayla Lund, as the Panthers had to find ways to achieve success without their leader on the court.
“It’s challenging, she’s just a leader and a great all-around player,” said Ndee. “A lot of times she will save our butts, so it is a challenge. Our next person is just as good. We think we can win with a lot of different lineups and we completely changed our lineup in the third set and won it.”
Ndee paced Pitt (26-3/15-3 ACC) with her 14 kills on 29 swings. Teammate Leketor Member-Meneh added 13 kills and nine digs.
Rachael Fairbanks recorded eight kills and swung at a .727 clip, while also notching 12 assists. Fairbanks was one of three to achieve a double-figure assist total, joining Lexis Akeo (18) and Kylee Levers (12).
For Louisville (27-0/17-0 ACC), Claire Chaussee had 16 kills, hitting at a .414 clip, while Anna DeBeer and Anna Stevenson added 15 and 12 kills respectively.
Setter Tori Dilfer dished out 45 assists over the four-set affair.
Louisville won the first set 25-19, aided by a 5-0 mid-set run. Down 12-10, Louisville first started to get back into form following a service.
The Cardinals held a lead entering the first-set media timeout and then set the tone winning four consecutive points as Pitt used both of its timeouts.
In the first set, Ndee had an attacking percentage of .625, getting five kills on eight swings while not committing any errors.
It was a bright spot for a set that slipped away from Pitt in the middle stages.
The second set was much like its predecessor in that the game was tight heading into the middle stages of the set, when Louisville had another opportunity to create separation around a media timeout.
Louisville again scored the first two points coming out of the stoppage, and the lead extended to 21-15, before a frustrated coach Dan Fisher emphatically asked for a timeout.
“The biggest thing was our serve-receive wasn’t as good as it normally is,” he said. “I thought we did a lot well, but there’s a reason why they’re the number-one team. We knew we had to play well.”
Louisville mirrored its first set victory, taking the second 25-19 as Pitt took five minutes to regroup.
Pitt did just that adding Fairbanks, Ashley Browske and Emmy Klika to the starting lineup as the Panthers fortunes began to change.
With each point, the sold-out crowd erupted even louder with those in attendance offering an emphatic “let’s go Pitt” chant prior to a set point.
The subsequent Louisville serve harmlessly fell long of target allowing Pitt to gain some momentum following a 25-17 victory.
“It’s just encapsulating my entire journey here,” said Ndee. “Freshman year, this crowd? No. We dreamed of having crowds like this where they pull down the brown bleachers. It’s so cool that so many people are just supporting us and the city of Pittsburgh is buying in. It feels like the city has our back.
It appeared that this match was poised to go five sets as Pitt turned an early 4-1 deficit into nine unanswered points, but Louisville remained disciplined and would take what proved to be the final set by a 25-21 count.
The win also allowed Louisville the clinch the ACC Championship and now Pitt will await its fate for Selection Sunday which will be held in a few days at 8:30 p.m. and be televised by ESPNU.
“This year for me, we’d like to be a top-four seed, I’d be shocked if we weren’t,” said Fisher. “We want to win a championship so you’re going to have to beat a lot of good teams… the draw is the whole story. We want to see our fate and start doing our work scouting, preparing for these teams.”