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Pitt Volleyball

Pitt Shows Resilience and Determination in Elite Eight Win over Wisconsin



No. 2 Pitt earned its greatest win in program history with a five-set victory over No. 1 Wisconsin in the Elite Eight last Saturday.

Unlike last year when the Panthers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted through the Elite Eight, they only earned a No. 2 seed this time around. This meant that they needed to travel on the road and take down tough opponents if they were to make it back-to-back appearances in the Final Four.

Pitt easily dispatched of Colgate and No. 7 BYU in sweeps at the Petersen Events Center on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, respectively. They then took down Florida in four sets in the Sweet 16 last Thursday, Dec. 8, and moved on to the Elite Eight where they met No. 1Wisconsin.

The Badgers came off their first National Championship in 2021 and looking to make their third straight Final Four. The Panthers faced a daunting task of taking down the reigning National Champions on their own court. They also faced a raucous Badgers’ crowd that filled UW Field House with some fans waiting outside since 6:40 a.m. for general admission seating.

Pitt dominated early in the first set, building big leads, including 17-10 later on. Wisconsin responded and managed to edge out Pitt, 25-23.

The Panthers didn’t let that dropped set stop them as they won the next two sets with a 25-21 score. They hit .357 in the second set and .311 in the third set to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

Pitt didn’t have an answer for a rejuvenated Wisconsin in the fourth set, but rebounded in the fifth set to take leads of 7-2 and 11-6. Wisconsin rallied for a 7-1 scoring run to earn a 13-12 advantage and it looked as if Pitt were heading out of the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers then played some of their best volleyball of the season to finish the match as victors.

Graduate right side hitter Courtney Buzzerio made a vicious spike off a great assist from setter Rachel Faribanks to tie it up at 13.

Graduate outside hitter Cam Ennis served a great ball that forced the Badgers to serve out of system. A good dig from sophomore libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika allowed Fairbanks to set up redshirt junior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez, who hit the ball through two Badgers’ at the net to give the Panthers a 14-13 lead.

Pitt used great work at the net from senior middle blocker Chiamaka Nkwokolo and Vasquez Gomez to defend the first Wisconsin attack. Buzzerio and Nwokolo then stopped another Wisconsin attack, making it easy for Fairbanks to pass it to Klika, who laid a great ball up for Buzzerio, who won the match off a great hit that went out of bounds after a poor dig attempt.

“I don’t know how much I can tell you about the X’s and O’s, we just found a way,” Panthers head coach Dan Fisher said postgame. “I’m very proud of this team. I’m proud that we’re doing it with the lineup we’re doing it in…I just think we’re showing a lot of heart in some tough moments and just incredibly proud.”

Buzzerio once again proved her worth as the Panthers’ best attacking option as a right side hitter. She led with 18 kills and also provided six digs defensively. She now has 448 kills this season, a career high, and is closing on the school record of 467 kills Stephanie Williams set from 2015-19.

Nwokolo and fellow middle blocker, Serena Gray, helped Pitt dominate at the nets and both provided crucial kills throughout the match. Nwokolo finished second on Pitt with 12 kills and tied for second with three total blocks, as well as and first with a .458 hitting percentage. Gray made nine kills on .320 hitting and finished first with four total blocks.

Fairbanks showed her versatility with a team-high 37 assists, tied second with 16 digs and three total blocks and made seven kills too. Senior setter Lexis Akeo added 16 assists and 10 digs backing up Fairbanks.

Vasquez Gomez finished third with 11 kills, but first with 22 digs, showing her versatility offensively and defensively. The 22 digs are the second most for a Panther in an NCAA Tournament game.

The Panthers have found themselves in many situations where they needed to either make a big comeback or pull off the improbable. They’ve won a few tough games this season in those situations, such as Oct. 23 against the then ranked No. 2 Louisville Cardinals and Nov. 23 against the then ranked No. 13 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Pitt took a two set lead before Louisville made a ferocious comeback and forced a fifth set, of which they took an 11-10 lead. Buzzerio led Pitt with three kills on the final five points in a 15-12 fifth set victory.

The Panthers fell behind to the Yellow Jackets 2-1 and then multiple times in the fifth set, including deficits of 10-5 and 13-10 Vasquez Gomez played an incredible fifth set with four kills and the Panthers took advantage of mistakes from the Yellow Jackets to earn a 15-13 victory in that fifth set.

“We believe, Fisher said on the Panthers’ victory over the Badgers. “We said it in the last press conference, we don’t know if we’re always going to win, but we always can. That’s kind of been our mantra. The reality is that it could’ve gone either way. You don’t always get them, but I’m just really happy that it fell our way today.”

Buzzerio praised her teammates for their fight, even when it seemed that they ran out of chances in the match. She spent four years at Iowa prior to joining Pitt this year and never played December volleyball. Buzzerio is now an integral part of this team and playing the best volleyball of her life as she and her teammates attempt to win the first ever National Title in program history this weekend.

“Just knowing we’re this close and we knew that was what we were up against,” Buzzerio said on how the team pulled it off against Nebraska. “The whole time they were blocking, we were covering. We were just working through it. So, at that point, it was just next play and trusting each other to get that serve-receive pass. I thought our pass was lights out tonight. We all were just trusting each other.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

Why bother posting this now? Happened four days ago.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rob

It’s just as good four days later!

1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

And a good reminder that the Final 4 starts tomorrow!
Now back to the lame a$$ fb and bb news.

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