Connect with us

Pitt Volleyball

Pitt Volleyball Faces Rival Louisville on Road in Final Four Rematch



Pitt Volleyball

Pitt volleyball suffered a difficult loss to rival Louisville in five sets last season, but they now have the chance for revenge in the first meeting in 2023.

No. 8 Pitt will face No. 6 Louisville Friday night on the road at 7:00 p.m., with the match taking place at the KFC Yum! Center, the home basketball court for Louisville basketball. Louisville is trying to get a sell-out for the match to create a hostile atmosphere and the game also has national importance, as the ACC managed to get it on ESPNU for a nationwide televised audience.

The Panthers are 15-2 overall, 6-0 in the ACC and on a nine-match winning streak. They have swept eight of those nine matches, and the only match they dropped sets in was last Friday, Oct. 6, where they made a reverse sweep in five sets against rival No. 11 Georgia Tech. They are also currently at the top of the conference, along with the Florida State Seminoles, who also have a 6-0 ACC record.

Their only losses come against then-No. 17 BYU in the season opener in Montana and then-No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 14 in five sets in the first match at the Fitzgerald Field House.

Pitt volleyball has great players in every position, but the first-year duo of right-side Olivia Babcock and outside hitter Torrey Stafford have stood out the most.

Babcock leads the team with 189 kills, 3.32 per set, and is second on the team with 60.0 total blocks. Her 4.19 points per set is also second-best in the ACC. She has also improved her topspin serve, with 19 service aces on the season, including six this past weekend, with three each against Georgia Tech and Clemson.

Stafford is second on the team with 177 kills, 3.16 per set, 92 digs and is fourth with 44.0 total blocks. Like Babcock, she works well not only at the net but also in the back row.

Redshirt senior outside hitter Valeria Vazquez Gomez has shown her versatility across the court in 2023. She is third on Pitt volleyball with 110 kills, 2.12 per set, and also in digs with 91. Vazquez Gomez has done great with her serving this season, leading Pitt with 20 service aces and No. 10 in the ACC with 0.38 service aces per set.

Pitt volleyball has demonstrated some great blocking in 2023 so much so, they are the best in the country with 3.21 blocks per set.

Leading the way is graduate transfer Emma Monks, who leads the team with 74.0 total blocks, is No. 6 in the country with 1.51 blocks per set and second in the ACC.  Fellow graduate student in Chiamaka Nwokolo, who has missed some time with injury, is No. 1 in the ACC with 1.61 blocks per set and is third on the team with 58.0 total blocks.

Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks is once again proving why she is one of the best setters in the country. She leads the Panthers with 371 assists and had her two highest totals against the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers for a combined 83 assists last weekend. Her performance in those last two matches has her No. 9 in the ACC with 8.24 assists per set and she is ready to take on the Cardinals Friday night.

“We love every game, we’re going to be excited to be in a packed gym,” Fairbanks said. “It’s just going to be a fun environment. It’ll be great.”

Junior libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika is one of the best passers on the Panthers and her defensive performances have played a large role as well, leading with 195 digs, 3.55 per set.

Louisville has gotten the better of Pitt the past two seasons, with wins in four of the past five matches. They bring a great team back from that second-place finish in 2022 and will challenge Pitt once again Friday night.

They are 14-2 overall, which features sweeps over then-No. 21 Washington State in August, then ranked No. 12 Penn State on Sept. 10 and then ranked No. 21 Kentucky, their main rival. Their only loss in the non-conference came against then-No. 2 Stanford in five sets at home on Sept. 17.

Louisville has not been as solid as of late in conference play. They fell in convincing fashion to NC State on the road in four sets on Oct. 1, for their first loss in the ACC to a team that wasn’t Pitt since Notre Dame in September 2020. Louisville also dropped a set in wins against Boston College at home on Sept. 24 and North Carolina on the road last Friday, Oct. 6.

Still, the Cardinals are a great squad that the Panthers can’t underestimate Friday night.

Senior outside hitter Anna DeBeer dominated Pitt last season in their Final Four matchup and is leading Louisville with 200 kills in 2023. Her 3.64 kills per set is third best in the ACC, while her 3.91 points per game is tenth best in the conference.

Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Cara Cresse is hitting .443, third best in the ACC, and has the most total blocks on the Cardinals with 51.0.

Junior libero/defensive specialist Elena Scott is first in the ACC with 4.63 digs per set, while redshirt sophomore setter Elle Glock is third in the ACC with 9.85 assists per set.

Coastal Carolina graduate student transfer and setter Brigitta Petrenko is leading the way for a Louisville team that has the most service aces per set with 1.79, as she is averaging 0.63 service aces per set herself, ranking No. 2 in the conference.

Louisville also possesses great returners in graduate opposite hitter Aiko Jones, who is third on the team with 121 kills, and senior middle blocker Phekran Kong, who ranks second with 50 total blocks.

UCLA transfer and junior outside hitter Charitie Luper is everywhere for the Cardinals. She is second on the team with 145 kills and third on the team with both 116 digs and with 15 service aces.

Both teams are looking to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they will likely need a win Friday night to earn that. Pitt volleyball hasn’t won in Louisville since 2019, but Babcock, who played two of her best matches of the season last weekend, is ready for the challenge.

“I know they’re trying to set an attendance record, so it’s going to be a lot of people and a lot of fans not on our side,” Babcock said. “So it’s really going to test how strong we are and it’s really going to test how much character we have. I think we can pull through. If we can continue to play as we did in the last three sets [against Georgia Tech], I know we can pull it out. But Louisville is a good team. I already show my respect to them prior to going there, but when we go there, we’re all just going to have to lock in and realize it doesn’t matter who’s watching. They’re not on the court and we just have to do our thing and shut them down.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
Click to comment
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get PSN in your inbox!

Enter your email and get all of our posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Like Pittsburgh Sports Now on Facebook!
Send this to a friend