PITTSBURGH — No. 2. Pitt dominated Colgate with a sweep in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (28-3) win their seventh straight First Round matchup since 2016 with the sweep over the Raiders (24-6). Panthers head coach Dan Fisher gave credit to the Raiders for their early intensity, but said that his team used a strong defensive performance to earn the victory.
“We wanted to start out by affecting them with our serve,” Fisher said of the game plan against the Raiders. “I didn’t think we did as well of a job of that. They passed pretty well out the gates, but then just by rotation we had some assignments. When we got them off the net, we wanted to have a well-formed double block and we were relentless on defense. We held them to a decent clip. Never totally satisfied, but it was good.”
Colgate kept Pitt close in the early parts of the first set, with both teams tied at nine points each. Pitt would open up the set with a 9-1 scoring run to take a 18-10 lead. Both teams traded points and Pitt took the first set, 25-16.
The Panthers took the lead early and kept it for the entire second set. The Raiders kept it within four, but the Panthers used a 7-1 scoring run to take a 21-11 lead and eventually won the set, 25-14.
Colgate managed to lead against Pitt at 5-4 to start the third set, but Pitt canceled that advantage out with an 8-0 scoring run, to earn a 12-5 lead themselves. Pitt held onto their advantage and took the final set, 25-14 and win the match.
Graduate outside hitter Cam Ennis made a surprise second start this season against Colgate in place of sophomore outside hitter Julianna Dalton. She finished with five digs and four kills in the victory.
Ennis featured primarily at setter during the regular season, filling in for senior setter Lexis Akeo, who spent time sidelined with an injury.
“Cam [Ennis] came here to be an outside hitter,” Fisher said. “That’s why we recruited her. You can see she has a great arm and she was a team player when we asked her to set early on in the season, but she’s very versatile. So we like our team with he or with Julianna [Dalton] on the court.
Fisher said that there are injuries on the team and that he wants to keep his players as healthy as possible. He did not comment on the status of Dalton, but said that she is cleared to play. He said that she was available to play against Colgate, even though she didn’t feature, and that she will be available against No. 7 BYU on Saturday night.
Redshirt junior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez led the Panthers in kills for the third straight game with 13 against the Raiders. She also hit .458 and made seven digs, both second best on the Panthers, showing her strengths on offense and defense.
The middle blocking duo of graduate Serena Gray and senior Chiamaka Nwokolo helped Pitt dominate at the net and hit .381 as a team against Colgate. Gray finished first with three total blocks and she made six kills on .455 hitting. Nwokolo made seven kills, third best, and led Pitt with a .700 hitting percentage.
Sophomore setter Rachel Fairbanks led Pitt with 23 assists and Akeo backed her up with 14 of her own. Fellow sophomore in libero Emmy Klika started her second straight game and led Pitt with 13 digs.
Graduate right setter Courtney Buzzerio finished second on the team with nine kills and hit .438 against the Raiders.
She is excited to take on the BYU Cougars again in the second round Saturday night. The Panthers defeated the Cougars in four sets in Provo, Utah on Sept. 4 to earn their first ranked win of the season.
“I think they’ve grown a lot as a team, coming out of their conference,” Buzzerio said. “Things are clicking for them for sure. They have a couple new girls in the lineup and so do we. So I think it’s going to be a completely different game. Obviously same teams, but different personnel on the court and it’s definitely going to be a battle.”
PHOTO GALLERY BY EDDIE PROVIDENT: