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Pitt Volleyball

Pitt Volleyball Comeback Falls Short against Oregon in Top 10 Battle At Home



Pitt Volleyball head coach Dan Fisher

PITTSBURGH — No. 8 Pitt volleyball battled back against No. 7 Oregon in an exciting five-set match at Fitzgerald Field House Thursday night, but fell short in five sets.

The Panthers (6-2) lose their first ever game to the Ducks (8-1), as they won their previous matchups in 1978 and 2019. The loss for the Panthers also ends a six match winning streak and a 13 match winning streak at home, dating back to September 2022.

Both teams fought for the lead early on in the first set, but Pitt was able to build advantages of 14-11, 18-14 and 22-19. Pitt looked like they had the first set for themselves with a 24-21 lead, but Oregon battled back to score five straight points and win the set 26-24. Senior outside hitter Gabby Gonzales, a transfer from Ohio State, made two crucial kills for Oregon to tie the set and then win it.

The Ducks and Panthers started out the second set going back-and-forth, as the Ducks held a slight 15-14 lead midway. The Ducks then dominated the rest of the way, going on a 10-3 run to win the set, 25-17. The Panthers did not perform well in the second set, hitting just .135.

Pitt took control of the third set early on, with leads of 6-1 and 10-3. They would continue to hold on that lead and never relinquish it, winning the set 25-18.

The Ducks began the fourth set with an 8-4 advantage and looked much better than the Panthers. Despite falling behind early, the Panthers came back, outscoring the Ducks 14-8 to take an 18-16 lead. The Ducks kept it within two at 22-20, but failed to account for Panthers redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez, who made a kill and back-to-back service aces to win the set 25-20 and tie the match up at two sets each.

The fifth set continued to display the great talents that both teams possess. Oregon would break the deadlock at 5-5 to take a 10-7 lead and force a Pitt timeout. Pitt then responded with four straight points, with two kills from first-year outside hitter Torrey Stafford, to earn a 11-10 advantage.

Oregon would score two more points to take the lead, but then a service error from Gonzales and another Stafford kill put Pitt up 13-12.

Pitt would then fall victim to two difficult points with sophomore libero/defensive specialist Dillyn Griffin called for a ball handling error and then first-year right side hitter Olivia Babcock had a close call that went Oregon’s way. Oregon would then win the set on a kill from senior opposite side hitter Morgan Lewis, 15-13, and the match as well.

Panthers head coach Dan Fisher loved the fight back from his team, but wanted them to be better offensively and said that they struggled in some rotations.

“Yeah I thought it was a great match,” Fisher said. “This is the type of team we’re going to need to beat to advance in the tournament. It was a great experience. The stats  were very, very close in almost every category, I think we had a few more digs. Hitting percentage, kills, errors, it was 15-13 in the fifth [set]. We’ve got to be a little bit better.”

Stafford and Babcock continue to show how great of a freshman class that Pitt really has, as they both had 16 kills each to lead the team, a season high for Babcock. Stafford made six digs and three total blocks, while Babcock had seven digs, hit. 307 and led Pitt with seven total blocks, tied for her season high.

Stafford loved the experience and the environment for her first competitive game at Fitzgerald Field House, praising the Pitt volleyball fans for coming out. She hopes to see her own play and the team continue to grow over these next few games as well.

“It was one of the teams we’re probably going to see in the tournament, so it was a good challenge for us,” Stafford said. “We started off play slow, but I think we got back. It would’ve been nice to win, but it was a good game.”

The Ducks offense hit hard and did well at the net, helping them get the victory in the end. Sophomore outside hitter Mimi Coyler and Lewis led the Ducks with 19 kills each, while Coyler also dominated with her serve, making six aces.

“I think she played really well offensively, but we knew she’d do that,” Fisher said on Coyler. “We could’ve done a little better job with her. She was very aggressive from the service line and I thought we could’ve handled that a little bit better.”

Vasquez Gomez had a solid game for the Panthers, with 12 kills, eight digs and finishing first on the team with four service aces. Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks led with 29 assists, a season-high for her, while junior libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika played great defensively, registering a career-high 24 digs.

Pitt volleyball will stay home for the weekend, hosting mid-majors in James Madison on Saturday and then High Point next Sunday, Sept. 18 for the rest of the Panther Challenge.

Fisher loved the great support from the fans, even with the loss, and wants to see fans return and support Pitt volleyball in the future.

“I mean I think the people here got their money’s worth so hopefully they come back,” Fisher said. “I think there’s a good student section, the band was great. I think it felt like a top 10 match up.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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