No. 7 Pitt volleyball will face off against rival No. 4 Louisville this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center in match with serious implications for the NCAA Tournament.
This match between two of the best programs in the country has had a great history in recent years. The teams moving to the ACC in 2014, along with Pitt volleyball head coach Dan Fisher’s arrival in 2013 and head coach Dani Busboom Kelly to Louisville in 2017, improved the rivalry. Pitt went 7-3 in the first 10 matches from 2014 through the 2020-21 COVID-19 season, but Louisville has been the better team as of late, winning the past three matches and six of the last seven.
The biggest win in the series came in the Final Four last season in five sets. Louisville and Pitt battled ferociously over the first four sets, but Louisville would dominate Pitt in that fifth set, winning 15-2 to move on to the National Title game.
Louisville swept Pitt at the KFC Yum! Center back on Oct. 13, winning by a combined nine points to take all three sets. They outblocked Pitt 6-3 and held them to 0 service aces.
“That game, we let them hit close to .400 and something we’ve prided ourselves on this year is being a really good defensive team,” Fisher said on the loss to Louisville. “So we didn’t do enough to make them uncomfortable and even then, a one point difference would’ve made it 22 all. We weren’t that far off, but the biggest thing was our defensive pressure. We didn’t apply enough and they played really well offensively.”
The Panthers are looking to win their second straight home match against the Cardinals, who they defeated in five sets at Fitzgerald Field House in 2022, while the Cardinals try to win their fourth straight in the series.
Pitt is also trying to set an attendance record for a volleyball match in program history, with Fisher and the rest of program, along with Pitt basketball, promoting as much as they can to bring as many fans to the Petersen Events Center.
Outside of the rivalry, the two teams are battling for top spot in the ACC and a No. 1 seed in the tournament. A win for either team puts them on course to go for an ACC Title, which would serve as the fourth consecutive for Louisville and back-t0-back for Pitt and fifth overall.
Pitt is 22-4 overall, 13-2 in the ACC and 7-1 since last facing Louisville. Their only loss comes in five sets to Florida State on Friday, Nov. 3, but they have sweeps over the likes of NC State, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest and a victory over Miami in four sets in Coral Gables, Fla.
Pitt volleyball comes into this crucial match off a dominant sweep over then ranked No. 8 Georgia Tech on the road last Friday in Atlanta. They hit .440 and held Georgia Tech to a .057 hitting percentage, while also making nine total blocks to Georgia Tech’s two.
The Panthers are one of the best teams in the ACC and their statistics prove it. They lead the conference in hitting percentage, .307, opponent hitting percentage, .135, points, 18.21 per set, opponent assists, 9.59 per set, opponent kills, 10.37 per set, blocks, 3.05 per set and opponent digs, 10.36 per set. They are also No. 2 in assists, 12.75 per set and kills, 13.76 per set.
First-year right side hitter Olivia Babcock has played her best this season in recent weeks for Pitt and her performance against Georgia Tech drew attention across the country.
She led Pitt with 15 kills and had an incredible season-high .652 hitting percentage in the sweep. She was also second with four total blocks, had three digs and tied with sophomore libero/defensive specialist Dillyn Griffin for two services aces, best on Pitt.
Babcock officially received AVCA/GameChanger Women’s Division I Player of the Week for best player in the country last week, and ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors for her performance against the Yellow Jackets.
She is first on Pitt with 382.0 points, 302 kills and 31 service aces, is second with 93.0 total blocks and is fourth with 100 digs. She also ranks No. 3 in the ACC with 4.39 points per set, No. 7 with 3.47 kills per set and No. 9 with both 1.07 blocks per set and 0.36 service aces per set.
The Panthers excel in blocking and with their proficient hitting percentage. Two big reasons for that is graduate student middle blocker duo of Emma Monks and Chiamaka Nwokolo.
Monks and Nwokolo rank in the top five in the ACC in both categories. They are No. 3 and No. 4 in hitting percentage, with Nwokolo at .428 and Monks at .426, while Monks leads the conference with 1.58 blocks per set and Nwokolo ranks No. 4 with 1.25 blocks per set.
The duo’s performance has Pitt volleyball at not just the top of the ACC, but Division I with 3.05 blocks per set.
Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks is continuing to show the country she is one of the best at her position. She leads Pitt volleyball with 657 assist and she is No. 5 in the ACC with 8.88 assists per set.
Outside hitter duo in first-year Torrey Stafford and redshirt senior Valeria Vazquez Gomez both demonstrate their talent at the net and in the back row for the Panthers. Stafford is second with 274 kills, third with 139 digs and fourth with 61.0 total blocks, while Vazquez Gomez is second with 149 digs and 27 service aces, third with 171 kills and fourth with a .276 hitting percentage.
Junior libero/defensive specialist Emmy Klika leads the Panthers once again in digs with 272. Her performance will prove vital if the Panthers are to take down their rival.
Louisville is 23-3, 14-2 in the ACC and are 8-1 since sweeping Pitt. Their loss came against then ranked No. 10 Georgia Tech on the road in four sets on Nov. 3, but they have swept Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Miami and Florida State at home, while defeating Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Clemson on the road.
Senior outside hitter Anna DeBeer dominated for Louisville against Pitt volleyball in the last matchup with 15 kills and a .448 hitting percentage, along with nine digs. She leads her team with 296 kills and is No. 10 in the ACC with 3.29 kills per set, while also ranking second on Louisville with 202 digs and fourth with 23 service aces.
Cardinals redshirt sophomore middle blocker Cara Cresse also played exceptional vs. the Panthers in their last meeting, with 10 kills and a .643 hitting percentage. Her .453 hitting percentage is best in the ACC and second best in Division I. She leads the Cardinals with 88.0 total blocks and is third with 206 kills.
Junior libero/defensive specialist Elena Scott is first in the ACC with 4.44 digs per set, while redshirt sophomore setter Elle Glock is third in the ACC with 10.11 assists per set. Scott also leads Louisville with 27 service aces
UCLA transfer and junior outside hitter Charitie Luper is a threat all over the court for the Cardinals. She is second on the team with both 260 kills and 26 service aces and is third with 185 digs.
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 in the ACC with 1.86, as she is averaging 0.42 service aces per set herself, ranking No. 5 in the conference.
Louisville also possesses great returners in graduate opposite hitter Aiko Jones, who is third on the team with 66.0 total blocks, fourth with 121 kills and fifth with both 21 service aces and 107 digs. Senior middle blocker Phekran Kong, ranks second on Louisville with 82.0 total blocks and fifth with 160 kills.
This match shouldn’t end in a sweep for either side, but whoever does better with blocking and serving will likely end up the winner of this great clash in four or five sets.