PITTSBURGH — Pitt advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year after beating Penn State, 3-1, on Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center. It’s the first time ever that Pitt has defeated Penn State in the NCAA Tournament.
“What a hard-fought battle it was tonight,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said after the game. “Every set was close, and a lot of sets could have gone either way. I’m just very grateful for these players and the grit they showed tonight, and I think it will be a moment that they remember for the rest of their lives.”
Penn State has been a powerhouse in women’s volleyball over the past four decades. Head coach Russ Rose has been the head coach since 1979 and has won seven national championships. After making the Elite Eight last year and now beating Penn State to earn another berth to the Sweet 16, Pitt’s program under Fisher is certainly in the right direction.
“The history of Pittsburgh and the schools, obviously, it’s a big rivalry,” Fisher said about Penn State. “Since I’ve been here, Russ has been great to me. We’ve done a lot of friendlies. It’s been more of a friendly rivalry. It’s not as adversarial as the history of Pitt and Penn State’s. But anytime you knock a storied program out of the tournament whether it’s Nebraska or Penn State, it means a lot.”
Outside hitters Kayla Lund and Leketor Member-Meneh were the standout performers for the Panthers, as Lund had a whopping 21 kills and was responsible for 25 points. Member-Meneh was second in kills with 19. Member-Meneh also led Pitt in digs with 14.
Setter Jonni Parker led Penn State in kills with 12 and contributed 15.5 points. Outside hitter Erika Pritchard was second in kills with 11.
“She’s just a veteran player and the scouting report was pretty clear and specific to the things that she does well for them,” Rose said about Lund’s 25-point performance. “She’s an emotional leader. She’s a solid passer and she scored 25 points in the match where she probably hit half a dozen balls hard. She was able to keep scoring by hitting the ball off the block and keeping it in play. That’s what a fifth-year kid can do. That’s why her and Chinaza (Ndee) came back. They provide a great foundation for the younger players.”
Lund said she wanted to get revenge on Penn State after losing to the Nittany Lions in the NCAA Tournament during her freshman year.
“This was a little bit of a revenge match,” Lund said. “I had a lot of alumni and past teammates reach out to me this morning, and just say, ‘Hey, you know what to do.’ You know, this is for us kind of thing. So, it means a lot.”
Pitt won the first set over the Nittany Lions, 25-22. Member-Meneh led the Panthers with eight kills during the set. It was a back-and-forth opening set, as Penn State battled back after trailing 20-16 and was able to tie the score at 22-22, but Pitt prevailed with three consecutive points. Outside hitter Kayla Lund had the set-clinching block.
Penn State led 20-17 at one point during the second set, but Pitt stormed back and tied the score at 22-22. However, Penn State scored three straight points to secure the set. Through two sets, Parker and right side Allie Holland led the Nittany Lions with 10 kills each.
Fifth-year right side Chinaza Ndee led Pitt to a 25-22 win in the third set. Three of Pitt’s final five points came off kills from Ndee. Lund had 19 kills and was responsible for 22.5 points through three sets. Member-Meneh was second with 14 kills.
Pitt held off Penn Stare and won the final set, 25-23. Outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez got a point on an ace to set up the match point, which was delivered by Member-Meneh via a block.
The No. 3 ranked Panthers will face Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.