PITTSBURGH — No. 10 Pitt played NC State on Sunday at Fitzgerald Field House and overcame defensive errors to win the match in four sets.
The Panthers (10-2 overall, 2-0 ACC) win is the sixth straight over the Wolfpack (7-6 overall, 1-1 ACC) since the 2018 season. A big part of the Panthers’ win is in large part to sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks, as she created 41 assists, a new game high for her.
Fairbanks said that defensively, the Panthers should’ve been better. She wishes that they would’ve finished with more digs than their opponent, but is pleased with the victory.
“I mean in the end we figured out a way to win,” Fairbanks said. “It wasn’t to our standards. I think that we could just improve on the little things and just constantly have our best effort and attitude, which I think is one of the main parts of the game. But we got the win, so that’s all that matters.”
She had success by targeting her middle blockers, senior Chiamaka Nwokolo and graduate Serena Gray. They each finished second for Pitt with 14 kills and they finished first with a .522 hit percentage and a .609 kill percentage. Those 14 kills are a career high for Nwokolo and a season best for Gray.
“They’re just unstoppable, Fairbanks said. “Every time I’d go to them, they’d just get something done. They’d either get the team out of system or get a kill and I think that they were adding a lot of pressure on NC State.”
Pitt began the first set on an 8-1 run and amassed a lead as great as 10, at 14-4, completely in control.
A second timeout from NC State changed things around for them, as they rebounded with a 7-2 run to cut the Pitt lead to five, 16-11.
The Panthers allowed the Wolfpack to come back into the set, as they made sloppy mistakes and the Wolfpack improved their play greatly. The Wolfpack kept shortening the lead, to 18-14 and then to 20-18, forcing Panthers head coach Dan Fisher to take two timeouts to get his team in better shape.
NC State then outscored Pitt 6-3 to take a 24-23 lead, close to making an improbable comeback.
Pitt responded as both redshirt junior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez and graduate right setter Courtney Buzzerio combined for a block assist, and took an attack error to gain a 25-24 lead.
Both teams then traded points as neither team could score two consecutive points to win the set.
With the each team level at 29 points, Nwokolo made two kills, which senior setter Lexis Akeo assisted on, giving her team the set victory, 31-29.
The Panthers completely dominated the Wolfpack in the second set, as they never looked like letting up. They took a 10-5 lead to start the game, then improved that lead to 20-8, before taking the set, 25-12.
Pitt started out up 9-5 over NC State in the third set and looked to set to be on their way to their first ACC sweep of the season. NC State instead went on a 6-0 scoring run and took the lead, forcing Pitt to play another lengthy, difficult set.
The Panthers retook the lead 15-12, but the Wolfpack fought back and both teams found themselves tied at 21.
While Pitt went up on an attack error, NC State redshirt sophomore outside hitter Madison Williams made two kills and combined on a block assist to put them on top, 24-23. An attack error from Fairbanks gave NC State the third set, avoiding a sweep.
Returning back to good form, the Panthers got a good 10-4 lead to begin the fourth set. Once again, though, the Wolfpack responded, scoring six points to the Panthers one, to bring the deficit down to just a point.
Pitt would eventually improve upon their lead, 20-15, and NC State reduced it again to just two points at 22-20. With the Wolfpack within just one point, Gray made a kill to win the fourth set, 25-23, and the match as well.
Vasquez Gomez led Pitt in digs with 24, which is also career high for her, while Buzzerio finished first with 15 kills, her fifth straight game leading the team in that category.
Pitt travels to Virginia this Wednesday, Sept. 28 in their first ACC road game of the season, looking to stay unbeaten in conference play.