PITTSBURGH — No. 7 Pitt volleyball found themselves behind early in their match against No. 11 Georgia Tech Friday night at Fitzgerald Field House, a situation they aren’t usually in.
The Panthers found themselves behind two sets to none and much of it had to do with their finishing. They had leads of 23-20 in the first set and leads of 22-20 and 23-22 in the second set, but both times, they failed to close it out. The Yellow Jackets went on a 5-0 run to win the first set and then 5-1 to win the second set to go up 2-0.
Pitt was down two sets for the first time since their match against then ranked No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 14 in the first match at Fitzgerald Field House in 2023. Pitt would win the next two sets and keep it close in the fifth, but lost a close final set 15-13.
The match against Georgia Tech continued the same way for Pitt volleyball as the Oregon match did. Pitt dominated Georgia Tech the next two sets, winning 25-17 in the third and 25-15 in the fourth to move onto that fifth set.
The Panthers fell behind early 2-0 and 4-2 in the fifth set, but fought back and took an 8-5 lead before switching sides. They would continue to take control in the set, with a great challenge from head coach Dan Fisher to put them up 10-7, before finishing the Yellow Jackets off 15-7 for the reverse sweep.
No. 7 #Pitt volleyball comes from down two sets to win 3-2 over No. 11 Georgia Tech
Here’s the final kill from Olivia Babcock pic.twitter.com/W8mmzztJj9
— Dominic Campbell (@DOMISMONEY) October 7, 2023
This is the first reverse sweep for Pitt volleyball since 2013, when they came back to beat Boston College in five sets on the road in Fisher’s first year at the helm. The win also improves Pitt’s record against Georgia Tech to 14-1 since joining the ACC in 2013 and on a four match win streak in the rivalry.
It is also the second straight year that Pitt had to battle back at home against Georgia Tech to get the win. They fell behind two sets to one in November 2022 at the Petersen Events Center, but Pitt had a strong fourth set and then came back from multiple deficits to win the fifth set 19-17, helping them to eventually win a share of the ACC Title for the first time since 2019.
Fisher loved the “heart” of his team for battling back and winning in the way they did. He mentioned how important it was for his team, which has four first-years and three transfers in, to get this victory for the season going forward. He also hopes to see better starts against the Yellow Jackets in the future, particularly their away match on Friday, Nov. 11 in Atlanta.
“It shows we’re tough, but I certainly don’t want to do it at their place,” Fisher said. “That’s not a good habit against Georgia Tech to go down big. But happy for this group right now.”
First-year right side hitter Olivia Babcock had one of the best games in her collegiate career so far for Pitt against Georgia Tech. She finished with a season high 19 kills to lead the team, hitting .368, second with six total blocks and added five digs.
The most improved part of her game came with her performance on the service line. Babcock is a top spin server, leading her to putting the ball high in the air and then jumping to spike it with power. The benefit of this serve is that it’s hard for opponents to defend and will get them out of system, but the negative is that it can result in many service errors, if the serve is erratic or too powerful.
Babcock had 13 service aces to 33 service errors coming into this match, but had three service aces to three service errors against the Yellow Jackets. There were times through the match that she served for long periods of time, allowing Pitt to rack up points and control possession.
Her performance countered that of Yellow Jackets junior outside hitter Bianca Bertolino, who came into the match leading the ACC in service aces per set, at 0.70. She is also a top spin server, something that Babcock prepared to face against.
“I’m going to be honest, whenever I see a top spin server on the other team, I get a little intimated,” Babcock said. “My mind set is, “Well there’s going to be another one, let me be the better of the two.” I kind of just went on the service line and I was like, “She’s going to do her thing, but I’m going to show them who I am,” and I did a pretty good job of that. I’m pretty content.”
The change for Pitt is something that Fisher noticed in the third set. He saw his team start to put more pressure on Georgia Tech with their defense and took advantages of their opportunity in the back row. The difference between this match and Oregon was that his team played their best when they needed to and didn’t show any fear despite the deficit.
“That one I thought we just kind of got a little nervous at the end,” Fisher said on Oregon. “I thought we were a little more tentative in the first two sets and this time, in the big moments, we were going for it and so I think that was a difference.”
Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks also had a great game for the Panthers. She led with 42 assists, a season high, finished second with eight digs and made five kills working as a right side hitter in the 6-2 rotation.
Fairbanks, as well as the rest of the Panthers, didn’t want this match to end the way that it did with the Ducks and she was proud of her team to just come out with the win.
“I mean, we knew coming into it, they were going to come out hard and we knew we had to come out harder,” Fairbanks said. “But first two didn’t go as we had hoped, but I think coming back in the fourth, we really showed some grit and then just after the second set, we all agreed, all out, not holding back anything. It was good for us. Good growing experience.”
Much of her service, from the third period on, went to graduate student middle blockers in Emma Monks and Chiamaka Nwokolo. Monks had a season high in kills with 11, hit .563, while also leading Pitt volleyball in total blocks with seven. Nwokolo had a season high in kill, as well, with 10 and hit .566, second best in 2023, and finished second with six total blocks.
Junior libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika made some important saves, leading the Panthers with 18 digs. Graduate libero/defensive specialist Logan Mosley also played a vital role in making a strong defensive back row, something that Fisher noted post game.
“It just makes our passing a little stronger,” Fisher said when Mosley is on the court. “She’s a great defender and she really has an improved serve. So I thought she had a good serving night as well. We’ve got a deep team and she was definitely a big part of the win “
Pitt volleyball is now 14-2 overall and 5-0 in the ACC after that win. They are on an eight match winning streak and are in No. 1 place in the conference, along with Florida State who have the best record.
They finish off their four match homestand with Clemson on Sunday, Oct. 8 but their next match is No. 6 Louisville on the road the following Friday, Oct. 13.
Babcock said that this win will propel the team going forward, particularly the four first-years, who are all playing an important role this season for the Panthers.
“I mean I think they’re super important,” Babcock said on playing close games against high ranking opponents. “In the [NCAA] Tournament, there’s going to be a ton of tough games like that. The sets could go either way and just knowing how to deal with it and not letting yourself crumble after the first two sets even if you’re down, I think that’s definitely making me a lot stronger as a player and I think the other freshmen can agree with that statement.”