Pitt’s historic NCAA match run got here to an finish on Monday afternoon, and it occurred in probably essentially the most heartbreaking approach conceivable. After profitable the primary two units of the match, the Panthers (19-5) misplaced the subsequent three video games, falling to No. 6 Washington (20-3) within the workforce’s first-ever Elite Eight look.
Pitt entered Monday’s match driving an upset streak in postseason play. After an undefeated spring portion of the common season, unseeded Pitt beat its first three NCAA match opponents — LIU, No. 14 Utah and No. 3 Minnesota. The sweep of Utah marked Pitt’s first win within the second spherical of the match in program historical past, and the workforce adopted that up with a shocking five-set comeback in opposition to the third-ranked Gophers.
After changing into one in all two unseeded (not in top-16) groups to make the Candy 16, no workforce exterior of the top-8 seeds certified for the quarterfinals apart from Pitt. However the Panthers didn’t are available in wanting like underdogs, storming out to a 10-5 lead within the first recreation. Washington couldn’t get inside two factors for the remainder of the sport, falling 25-20.
“I believed they got here out somewhat flat and we jumped on them,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher stated.
The Panthers carried the momentum straight into the second body, leaping out to an 8-4 lead. Though the Huskies efficiently evened it at 8, Pitt went on a vital run throughout redshirt senior setter Kylee Levers’ serve to take a 15-10 benefit. The Panthers would maintain on to win the second recreation 25-21, thanks largely to sophomore center blocker Chiama Nwokolo’s 5 kills.
With a 2-0 lead, full momentum and what seemed like an unstoppable defensive rhythm, Pitt stood on the point of an unpredictable Closing 4 look. However anybody who declared the sport over should not have watched the Huskies the previous week. They on no account coasted to this stage, going five-sets in its first two matches of the match.
Towards Louisville on Sunday, Washington looked unrecoverable at a number of instances. The workforce went down 2-1, earlier than dominating the fourth recreation to drive another. Down by six factors within the remaining set, the Huskies mounted a robust comeback to ship the Cardinals residence.
“I believe it simply reveals how gritty this workforce is,” Washington junior setter Ella Could Powell stated. “It’s simply actually enjoyable to see folks present up in these moments.”
The Huskies dominated the third set in opposition to the Panthers from begin to end, cruising to a 25-16 end result. The Panthers solely hit a .148 hitting proportion within the body, whereas Washington shined with .522.
“We had been form of simply ready for them to lose it,” Fisher stated. “We form of went a approach somewhat bit from what received us right here, simply enjoying actually aggressive volleyball.
Washington received out to a different sturdy begin within the fourth recreation, taking a 10-6 lead. Each time Pitt would begin to claw again, the Huskies seemingly received a well timed enhance from junior exterior hitter Claire Hoffman and senior exterior hitter Samantha Drechsel. However the set grew to become really dramatic when the referees obtained extra scrutiny.
With the Panthers trailing 19-15, play stopped when Pitt gamers sought an over-the-net violation on the Huskies. As a substitute, officers referred to as a violation on Pitt for touching the online. Luckily for Fisher, he may problem the decision as a result of a Washington participant had made contact with the ball when going over the online. Pitt received the problem, leading to a two-point swing on the scoreboard.
A few factors later, Washington took a chance to make use of a problem, saying an errant ball had tipped off of Starks’ fingers. That try proved unsuccessful, reducing the result in two, and a pair performs later the Panthers evened the set 20-20 with an ace from senior exterior hitter Kayla Lund.
It solely took a matter of minutes for the problem card to come back out once more, this time Fisher arguing an Ndee serve had painted the road. He misplaced that one, tying the set at 23. Washington efficiently overturned one other name on the subsequent play, giving the Huskies set level. Nwokolo responded with a kill to tie it 24-24.
Throughout this important second of the match, a Pitt rejection appeared to arrange a match level. Washington challenged and officers dominated that Lund had made contact with the online earlier within the rally, establishing a recreation level for the Huskies as an alternative. They capitalized, placing it away to tie the match two units apiece.
“We had some gritty performances, however I don’t assume anyone actually had the sport of their lives,” Fisher stated. “We had a number of good, but it surely simply wasn’t fairly sufficient. It will’ve been good to get a type of to go our approach within the fourth, although.”
Immediately, Pitt wanted to win the ultimate set or its season would finish. The Huskies carried the momentum of their comeback, although, and received six of the primary seven factors earlier than an Ndee kill halted the run. Panther junior exterior hitter Jordan Lockwood received rejected on the web, and Drechsel notched an ace instantly after to provide Washington a 10-4 lead.
The deficit proved an excessive amount of to beat. The groups went backwards and forwards, with Starks stepping as much as serve needing 5 consecutive factors for the Panthers. The serve didn’t make it over the online, and the Huskies stormed the court docket to have a good time their first Closing 4 look since 2013.
An emotional Ndee mirrored after the sport on the workforce’s historic run, the farthest Pitt volleyball has ever made it within the NCAA match. She stated the sweep over Utah within the second spherical would stay because the defining second for her.
“I imagine in us,” Ndee stated. “It’s nearly displaying the folks we’ve all the time been [legit], and I believe that’s what we did on this match. I’m simply actually actually proud. It may be straightforward to form of purchase into the thought of us not being pretty much as good as we predict we’re or we are saying are. Displaying up on this match actually planted a seed in our workforce that ‘hey we will compete with anyone.”
Fisher stated he hoped the loss would function a motivator to this system sooner or later, constructing off of the success it had this season.
“Individuals have recognized that we’re a superb workforce for the previous few years, however hopefully there’s extra notion that hey, we’re a contender,” he stated. “We’re somebody that may make a deep run and might battle for a championship. Hopefully that impacts every part positively — our recruiting, our fanbase. That’s the hope.”