No. 7 Pitt volleyball is playing great once again to start 2023, but a match against No. 11 Georgia Tech 7:00 p.m. Friday night at Fitzgerald Field House will push them to prove that they are the best in the ACC.
The Panthers are 13-2 overall, 4-0 in ACC play and are currently on a seven match winning streak, where they haven’t dropped a single set. Their only losses come against then ranked No. 17 BYU in the season opener in Montana and then ranked No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 14 in five sets in their home opener.
Pitt volleyball won a home-and-away with then ranked No. 15 Kentucky, with a sweep in Lexington and then a victory in four sets at the Petersen Events Center in the home opener. They also swept then ranked No. 24 Marquette on the road and outside of dropping one set to Kentucky at home, Pitt has swept the other teams they played against in their non-conference slate.
The ACC has been much of the same for Pitt, with sweeps on the road against Duke and North Carolina and then sweeps against Boston College and Syracuse at home the past weekend. They held Syracuse to a -0.41 hitting percentage on Sunday, their best against an opponent in 2023.
Pitt volleyball has dominated the series with Georgia Tech since joining the ACC in 2013, with a 12-1 record. Georgia Tech most recently won in Pittsburgh in 2021, but have lost the past three matches, including a thrilling five set victory for Pitt last November, which helped them to clinch a share of the ACC Title.
Georgia Tech, despite the lopsided rivalry, has also proved themselves as one of the best in ACC as well, starting out 4-0 in conference play and on a six-match winning streak in 2023. They hold wins in four sets at rival Clemson and at home against NC State, a sweep against Virginia Tech on the road and then a close five set win versus Wake Forest away on Sunday.
They are also 13-1 overall in 2023, which includes back-to-back wins against then ranked No. 12 Ohio State in Columbus and another win against then ranked No. 8 Penn State in August. Their only loss on the season came against rival Georgia in four sets at McCamish Pavilion, their home basketball court.
The Panthers have one of the best first-year duos in the country in outside hitter Torrey Stafford and right-side hitter Olivia Babcock.
Both players lead the Panthers in kills, with Stafford at 155 and Babcock at 154 and the two also excel at blocking, with Babcock second on the team with 52.0 total blocks and Stafford, fourth best at 37.0 total blocks. Babcock is also No. 7 in the ACC in points per set at 3.96 and Stafford is No. 2 on the Panthers with 83 digs.
Redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez has demonstrated her versatility throughout 2023. She has the most service aces for Pitt volleyball with 17 and her 0.39 aces per set is No. 9 in the ACC. Her 98 kills and 75 digs are also both third best for Pitt.
Graduate student middle blockers Emma Monks and Chiamaka Nwokolo are both dominating at the net for the Panthers in 2023. The pair both rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the ACC with blocks per set, with Nwokolo at 1.64 and Monks at 1.59. Monks, who transferred from Michigan State, is also No. 8 in the ACC with a .423 hitting percentage.
Junior duo in libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika and setter Rachel Fairbanks are also dominating at their positions. Klika leads with 167 digs, 3.55 per set and Fairbanks has 288 assists so far, good for 7.78 per set.
The Yellow Jackets bring in a fantastic squad that will challenge the Panthers throughout their match on Friday.
First-year outside hitter Larissa Mendes leads the team with 169 kills and is No. 9 in the ACC with 3.38 kills per set. Sophomore middle blocker and UNC transfer Liv Mogridge leads the team with 46 blocks, 1.02 per set, and is No. 2 in the ACC with a .448 hitting percentage.
Junior outside hitter Bianca Bertolino is one of the more all-around players for the Yellow Jackets. She leads the ACC in service aces per set at 0.70 and is No. 8. in the ACC at 3.94 points per set.
Georgia Tech also has a great libero/defensive specialist and setter partnership in fifth year Paola Pimentel and senior Isabella D’Amico. Pimentel leads the team with 219 digs and her 4.38 digs per set is No. 4 in the conference, while D’Amico has 418 assists and is No. 6 in the conference with 9.09 assists per set.
Senior outside hitter Tamara Otene is another player to watch out for on the Yellow Jackets, as she is second on the team with 153 kills, 3.26 per set.
A win for Pitt volleyball would go a long way in achieving their goals for the regular season, which is to win the ACC and also earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to host through the Elite Eight. Head coach Dan Fisher has great respect for Georgia Tech head coach Michelle Collier is ready to battle it out once again this Friday.
“I think it’s one that our fan base is excited for, so I think we’ll probably be pretty close to a sellout.” Fisher said on the matchup. “We’ve had a good rivalry the last couple of years. I just have a lot of respect for Michelle and how hard they play on defense. I know we’re really going to be pushed.”
The winner won’t hold sole possession of top spot in the ACC, as Florida State are, surprisingly, 5-0 to start in conference play. No. 6 Louisville lost in four sets on the road to NC State on Sunday, making the quest for an ACC title far more interesting than in the past two seasons.