PITTSBURGH — No. 8 Pitt volleyball finished their four game homestand with a sweep over UMBC at Fitzgerald Field House Wednesday evening.
The Panthers (9-2) complete their non-conference schedule with the win over the Retrievers (6-5) and increase their lead in the all-time series to 4-0. The Panthers are also on a three match winning streak, as they defeated the James Madison Dukes last Saturday and the High Point Panthers on Sunday.
Panthers head coach Dan Fisher liked the effort he saw from his team in the win and that the Terriers are a solid team who have a good chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We wanted to get a few players in and resting a few,” Fisher said. “Just managing load a little bit. I thought we didn’t skip a beat and I thought our setting was very good. I thought really all the freshman had really good games. I thought Logan [Mosley] stepped in at libero and we didn’t skip a beat. So I was definitely pleased with those switches.”
Pitt and UMBC both shared points, until Pitt went on a 6-0 scoring run to make it 10-4. Pitt would then go on a 7-2 run to make it 16-7 before taking the first set 25-11. Pitt hit .684 in the first set and held UMBC to a -0.048 hitting percentage.
The Panthers continued to dominate the Terriers in the second set, scoring six straight points to make it a 15-6 lead and then finished the set off with a 10-4 run to win 25-10.
UMBC began the third set the better of the two teams, with leads of 11-8, 14-11 and 18-16. Pitt had to make a late comeback, going on a 7-1 run to take a 23-19 lead, before winning the set, 25-21, and earning the sweep.
First-year duo in outside hitter Torrey Stafford and right side hitter Olivia Babcock led the Panthers with nine kills each. Babcock also hit .533, while both players made four digs each.
Redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez and graduate middle blocker Emma Monks finished second on the team with seven kills each and three total blocks each, respectively.
Monks came into this match leading the ACC and is No. 6 in blocks per set at 1.55. She thanks her pin hitters, who are the players whose front row position is closer to the antenna, like a right side hitter or outside hitter, for putting in her in the position to excel in 2023.
“It feels good, but I honestly couldn’t do it without my pins,” Monks said. “They set me up all the blocks and my blocks are their blocks and their blocks are my blocks, so shoutout to my pins.”
Fisher, who brought Monks in from Michigan State for her final year of collegiate eligibility, has been impressed with her play as well. With junior middle blocker and Florida transfer Bre Kelley out the past seven matches with injury, Monks has excelled in all areas on the court and Fisher has noticed it.
“She’s having a great year,” Fisher said. “What I like about her, with every game, she’s expecting more of herself. Whether it’s serving, digging, covering a ball, she’s not just happy with a block or a kill. She’s expecting herself to make plays. That’s going to be important for us going forward.”
First-year Blaire Bayless had a great game for Pitt against UMBC, making six kills, tied for her season high, and hitting .857. Graduate middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo made seven total blocks, best on Pitt volleyball in the victory and tied for her season high.
First-year Haiti Tautua’a has stepped up in place of junior Rachel Fairbanks, who has missed the last three matches, and started at the setter position in that time. She had 20 assists to lead the Panthers, one off her season high, and Fisher has noticed her improved play in her first season with the team.
“She’s located well, but I think today you saw that she also went on a lot of serving runs,” Fisher said. “She made plays defensively. She’s probably the most physically talented setter we’ve ever had and so she’s getting really valuable experience when she’s out there.”
Pitt volleyball starts ACC play this weekend, as they travel to face Duke in Durham, N.C. this Friday at 7 p.m. and then take on North Carolina next Sunday, Sept. 24. Fisher hopes to see his team keep the same intensity they did this past few matches at home keep up into conference matchups.
“The challenge is how many games we’ve had in a row and then going on the road,” Fisher said. “The challenge is just thinking it’s going to be easy and it certainly will not. I want them to be juiced to play these games this weekend and expect a battle.”