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Pitt Volleyball Begins 2023 Season with Enthralling Blue-Gold Exhibition



Pitt volleyball

PITTSBURGH — Pitt volleyball kicked off their 2023 season with an enthralling Blue-Gold intrasquad Exhibition at the Fitzgerald Field House Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers split off into two teams, giving fans the chance to see new transfers and first-years for the first time. The exhibition is one of two the Panthers will play in this preseason, with a trip to Ohio State next Saturday, Aug. 19 before the season starts.

The Blue team featured seven players in graduate middle blockers Chiamaka Nwokolo and Emma Monks, outside hitters in junior Julianna Dalton and first-year Torrey Stafford, first-year right-side hitter Olivia Babcock, junior libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika and first-year setter Haiti Tautua’a.

The Gold team featured outside hitters in redshirt senior Valeria Vasquez Gomez, senior Cat Flood and first-year Blaire Bayless, graduate defensive specialist/libero Logan Mosley, middle blockers in sophomore Rachel Jepsen and junior Bre Kelley, setters in graduate Lexis Akeo and junior Rachel Fairbanks, as well as sophomore libero/defensive specialist Dillyn Griffin.

The Gold Team initially started out in front in the first set up 9-5, but the Blue Team rallied to take a 17-16 lead, forcing Gold to take a timeout. Gold managed to get back in front late, up 23-22, but Blue scored the final three points to take the first set, 25-22.

The Blue Team dominated the second set, 25-18 to take a two set lead. The two teams split the third set early, tied at 9 points each.

Blue eventually went on a 9-4 run to take a 18-13 lead, forcing Gold to take a timeout and close to a quick sweep. Gold rallied and scored 12 of the next 17 points to take the third set, 25-23.

Just like the third set, Blue opened up the fourth set with a sizable lead, 9-4. Gold came back and managed to flip the scoring to tie it at 13. Blue scored the final two points to take the match, which ended at 15 points, 3-1.

Babcock led all Panthers in scoring in the match. She made 10 kills, four service aces, seven block assists and one solo block for 18.5 points. Bayless also continued the trend of great play from first-year players, finishing first on the Gold Team with 17.0 points on 13 kills and eight block assists, while also making three digs.

Dalton came back from injury late last season and played great in the match, making 13 kills, seven digs and two assists. Vasquez Gomez made 12 kills and nine digs and Stafford made seven kills and nine digs.

Nwokolo commanded her team, making eight kills, one solo block and seven block assists for 12.5 points for the blue team. Kelley made eight kills herself, one service ace, seven block assists and a .412 hitting percentage for the gold team. Monks had a solid game herself, with eight kills, two service aces and four block assists for 12 points on the Blue Team.

Tautua’a made an impressive 40 assists to lead all Panthers, while Fairbanks had 28 and Akeo had eight. Mosley and Tautua’a finished in first with 10 digs each, while Klika had nine digs herself.

Pitt volleyball head coach Dan Fisher wanted more from his team’s service game. They had 12 service aces, but 19 service errors as well. Other than that, he was pleased with the performance and is excited for the season.

“I think we need to be a little more consistent with our service game, but on the whole, it confirmed what we’ve been seeing in practice that we have incredible depth,” Fisher said. “Even our young players, they’re not afraid to be out there. We have a good team and I think we are going to have a really good year.”

Dalton, who along with her teammates on the Blue Team, is excited to have bragging rights the next week of practice. She also is feeling great going into next season, giving thanks to a great rehab team who has her ready to go for the upcoming season.

“I feel really good,” Dalton said. “The preseason has been such an awesome time. We’ve been growing as a team, growing closer together, but also growing closer competitively. It’s been really fun to see the new girls and then just the returners step up their game even more.”

Pitt volleyball also hung two banners in honor of the past two Final Four appearances in 2022 in Omaha, Neb. and 2021 in Columbus, Ohio.

Pitt Volleyball begins their upcoming season in less than two weeks, as they face off against BYU on Friday, Aug. 25 in the first match of the Ellesyn Invitational in Missoula, Mont.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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