No. 12 Pitt faced off against SEC foe Tennessee at Fitzgerald Field House Friday night and came away with their sixth sweep of the season.
The Panthers’ (8-2) victory over the Volunteers (6-5) is their second in consecutive seasons over them and tips the all-time record in their favor, 10-9. It is also the Panthers’ second Power 5 victory of the season, as they defeated Texas A&M in the end of August.
Senior librero/defensive specialist and captain Ashley Browske enjoyed seeing the band and the crowd create a fantastic atmosphere. They gave the Panthers a boost of confidence and she was proud her team could put on a show.
“Coming into it, we definitely wanted to train hard,” senior librero/defensive specialist Ashley Browske said. “Every single day this week, we had the focus of just expecting hard and being this tough team and just finding our vibe. And I think that carried over into the game right from point one. Our vibe is super important and how we connect with each other. After something goes wrong or something goes right, how we’re bouncing back, how we’re communicating. So I thought that was really good.”
The win also comes after a disappointing loss at home last Saturday to unranked Towson in four sets. The loss marked the first time that Pitt lost to an unranked team at home in over six years, leading the team to regroup and rethink their strategy going forward this season.
“Last week was a wake up call that there are areas that we need to improve,” Browske said. “I think we all changed our mentality of “Why do we play at Pitt?” and “What do we need to do to be successful?” because we want to win a national championship. So I think all of us changed that mindset of being like “Hey. I’m gonna come to practice every day wanting to get better.” Wanting to prove ourselves, gaining the right to feel confident being on the court. I think from that moment on, our mentality changed. I see a difference in each one of my teammates.”
Both teams battled each other close through the middle of the first set and were level at 13 points a piece. Pitt then broke out for a 7-1 run to take a 20-14 lead and held off Tennessee to win the first set, 25-20.
The Panthers dominated early on in the second set, beginning with a 9-1 run. The Volunteers cut back into the lead with an 8-4 run, making it a 13-9 game, but the Panthers responded with a 7-4 run to increase their lead to 20-13.
Tennessee then scored six of the next seven points, bringing the lead back to just 21-19. Pitt used two kills from graduate right setter Courtney Buzzerio and another kill from graduate outside hitter Julianna Dalton to finish off Tennessee, 25-21 and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
Each team traded points to start off the third set and the game tied at seven. The Panthers then began a 8-3 run to expand their lead to 15-10 and kept this large of a lead throughout most of the set.
With their lead at 24-19, Pitt looked to just finish off the match and take the sweep. Tennessee continued to make plays to keep the match alive, scoring four straight points to cut the lead to one. Pitt still finished Tennessee off, 25-23, by winning the match on an attack error.
Buzzerio led the attack for the Panthers with 14 kills for the second straight game. Redshirt junior Valeria Vasquez Gomez finished with the highest kill percentage at .529 and hit percentage at .429 for the Panthers, while also adding 11 kills.
Sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks led with 21 assists, while senior setter Lexis Akeo came in second with 20 assists of her own.
Pitt takes on No. 5 Ohio State in what should be a packed Fitzgerald Field House on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. Browske said it’ll be one of the most important games of the year and that Pitt needs to be ready to fight for every point.
“They’re a big team, Browske said. “They got a lot of tall, physical girls. So we just got to be ready to go to battle with them. I know it’s going to be a tough environment. But I think our game plan will be to have great energy, great enthusiasm, some good defensive effort. We always try to out dig teams. So if we get our defense put together in addition to our good serve and pass, I think we have a great chance of taking the dub on Sunday.”