Pitt volleyball began its pursuit of an ACC championship down south on the road Friday night.
With a good test in Duke, the lone ACC school to receive votes in the latest AVCA rankings, Pitt swept the Blue Devils 25-20, 30-28, 25-22 in a night of aggressive, attacking volleyball.
Pitt kicked off conference play by hitting .258 against Duke, compared to the Blue Devils’ .190 clip, and the Panthers were aggressive in attacking all night. With 48 kills, 41 assists and fewer errors attacking and serving, Pitt did enough to secure its ninth sweep this season — fourth in a row.
That's the way to start ACC play 😏 pic.twitter.com/23X5vMLLkW
— Pitt Volleyball (@Pitt_VB) September 23, 2023
Duke quickly took the first two points of the match, two kills from the Blue Devils’ Gracie Johnson, before the first set settled into a back-and-forth rhythm. And Pitt would battle back, courtesy of a couple of kills from Torrey Stafford and Rachel Fairbanks, to take an 8-6 lead off an Olivia Babcock ace.
It was a set in which Pitt would stretch its lead a few points before Duke would scramble back with a few points of its own but never managing to tie it up. Until breaking through at 16 all.
Pitt took the next couple of points, courtesy of more kills from Babcock and Chiamaka Nwokolo (twice), but Duke was its own undoing as a number of service and attack errors set Pitt up with the first set point of the night. And an attack error gave Pitt the first set 25-20.
The second set featured more of the same back-and-forth nature of play, with the Panthers and Blue Devils trading points early, before Duke used a 3-0 run to take a 14-11 lead.
But the slim Duke lead didn’t hold for long as Babcock and Stafford notched three kills, the Blue Devils recorded another service error and the set locked at 15-15. And a barrage of kills from Nwokolo and Stafford pushed Pitt’s lead to 19-15.
But a 5-0 run from the Blue Devils retook the lead, and the back-and-forth match continued very late in the second set. And as neither side was able to hit the two-point lead required to take the set, Pitt and Duke played some bonus volleyball.
A Babcock ace gave Pitt a 29-28 lead, and a Stafford kill allowed the Panthers to take a 30-28 second set.
Fittingly, the third set continued with more back-and-forth play before a 4-0 run set Pitt up with an early 11-7 lead. As was the case in the first set, Pitt managed to hold its lead (with more kills from Stafford and Babcock) to set up a 17-15 lead. And a Pitt timeout heading into the stretch run.
Duke’s sloppy play continued late in the third set as two attack errors gave Pitt a 21-16 lead, and another Fairbanks ace stretched the lead even further. A couple of points later, surviving a late Blue Devils push, a Stafford kill secured the sweep with a 25-22 set — and match — win.
Babcock and Stafford were aggressive in attack all night, leading Pitt with 13 kills a piece, and Nwokolo and Valeria Vazquez Gomez recorded six and five kills, respectively, each.
Fairbanks was a maestro from her position as a setter, boasting a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage, to go along with a team-high 33 assists and seven digs, and Nwokolo (.556) and Juliana Dalton (.500) were also very efficient on the night.
Michigan State transfer Emma Monks led Pitt with three blocks, just ahead of Nwokolo’s two blocks, and Babcock’s three aces paced both Pitt and Duke.
Pitt volleyball will continue its ACC slate with another few days in North Carolina, making the short trip to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. Pitt-UNC is set to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with a broadcast on the ACC Network.