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Pitt Volleyball

Pitt Volleyball Sweeps UMBC in 1st Round of NCAA Playoffs



PITTSBURGH — UMBC was looking to build on some momentum it obtained battling third-ranked Pitt in a first-round NCAA Tournament contest at the Petersen Events Center, but what it did not count on was freshman Rachel Fairbanks.

All Fairbanks did was open the second set by serving into spots that UMBC was unable to get clean first-ball contact on as Pitt scored the opening eight points in the game and opened up the match.

“Rachel was serving really tough and then (UMBC) passed so well in the first set, just sustaining that level of passing wasn’t going to last all night,” Pitt coach Dan Fisher said. “Rachel applied a lot of pressure on the serve and that set the tone.”

Pitt earned a second-round date with Penn State after it swept UMBC 3-0 (25-23, 25-13, 25-18) in front of 2,344 fans.

Senior outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh paced Pitt with her 13 kills, while fifth-year right side Chinaza Ndee contributed 11 kills. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez and junior libero Ashley Browske recorded 11 and 10 digs respectively.

Another difference for Pitt proved to be inserting Chiamaka Nwokolo back into the middle. Nwokolo has been more on the right side this season, but the decision paid dividends as she tied a season high with her seven kills on nine total swings, good for a .778 clip.

“She’s clearly very comfortable attacking the middle, that was one of the setter assignments, to get the ball in the middle a lot,” said Fisher.

Seren Gray also provided a boost with her seven kills and .545 attack percentage, while also earning a game-high six blocks.

UMBC saw Grace Rigsbee earn 11 kills and also received a 14-dig contribution from libero Loren Teter.

As both sides felt the other out in the first set, Pitt appeared to create some separation up 17-12, but UMBC was able to swing at a .343 clip in the opening set and had the Panthers to a single set point, before Member-Meneh earned a set-clinching kill.

“That first set I thought they played as well as I’ve seen them play all year,” Fisher stated. “They passed the ball great and hit for a good percentage. They gave us all we could handle.”

The first set also saw Kayla Lund’s return to the court after she did not see the court against neither Clemson, nor Louisville.

Lund played in the back row, earning one dig and also recorded a service error.

Fisher stated her return was nice in that it gave Pitt another option to utilize, but ultimately it would not have to go down that road after.

That was because of Fairbanks’s serving, which also came at a time where UMBC got stuck in its first rotation and could not side out.

“We witnessed it on the scoreboard, we were stuck in the one rotation for eight or nine points,” UMBC coach Cristina Robertson said. “We fought back but you’re playing the #3 team in the country and Coach Fisher coaches them not to let up. They pressed the gas on us… That’s volleyball.”

Ndee recalled the first set as a wake-up call of sorts and it made Pitt fight harder, which showed when it tightened up in the second set.

UMBC had a -.115 attack percentage and tried to get back in the set, but Pitt remained firmly in control of play.

“We talk a lot about killer instinct and not letting go, not letting anybody back into the game,” said Ndee. “That’s what we bought into in the second set and everyone contributed to that.”

Pitt was able to get 15 players onto the court as between sets two and three Cat Flood, Emmy Klika, Jordan Lockwood, Anastasia Russ and Sabrina Starks entered the fray.

The sweep was assured as Pitt won five straight points, turning a two-point lead into a 16-9 advantage and from there closed out the match.

Now comes the second-round matchup local fans almost certainly desired as Pitt and Penn State square off.

“It’s no secret how big this game is for the community and the school,” Fisher said. “We take that really seriously. As the tournament goes along, the parody gets higher, so we expect a hard-fought match tomorrow. We’ll be ready.”

Historically, Penn State owns a 34-20 overall record in the rivalry.

These two teams last met in 2019 playing two games in as many days. Pitt, then ranked sixth, and Penn State then ranked fourth split meetings.

Pitt first won Nov. 20 on the road sweeping that contest. The victory marked Pitt’s first at Penn State since 1980 and that was Penn State’s first home non-conference sweep since 1986.

The rematch occurred at the Petersen Events Center with the Nittany Lions winning in five sets, taking the final set by a 16-14 count.

This contest will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday and Ndee was very brief describing her team’s feelings concerning the match.

“They’re a good team and it’s always exciting to play a good team and see where we stack up,” she said. “We’re ready.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

cool shout out to RMU band for coming to play and support their cross town rival, while the Pitt band is in Charlotte.

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