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Volleyball Falls to Pitt in Four Sets

Volleyball Falls to Pitt in Four Sets

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami volleyball team could not spoil Pittsburgh’s perfect start to Atlantic Coast Conference play, falling to the Panthers 3-1 at James L. Knight Sports Complex Sunday.
The Hurricanes (9-3, 3-3 ACC) grew into the match and were within two points of forcing a fifth set, but the Panthers (13-4, 6-0 ACC) made clutch plays in the end to close the match, 25-19, 25-16, 21-25, 26-24.
“Pitt is a good team, well-coached, and pretty consistent,” Miami head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “Unfortunately, we gave them a lot of confidence after that second set. When you are in tight battles, it is a couple of points that make the difference. We had one too many hitting errors in game four.
“Obviously, we liked how we responded after game two and I would like to see more of what the team did in games three and four.”
Miami went into the intermission with no player above six kills, but as a result of the better-contested third and fourth set, two Hurricanes finished in double figures offensively. Senior outside hitter Olga Strantzali led the team with 16 kills, while junior outside hitter Kolby Bird added 11, on a .409 hitting performance. Sophomore middle blocker Madison Dill contributed seven kills on team-high .500 hitting for the Canes. Redshirt junior setter Haley Templeton had 41 assists for Miami.
Every offensive Pitt player hit above .300 in the match, resulting in three Panthers with double-digit kills: Mariah Bell with match-high 17, Nika Markovic with 16 and Stephanie Williams with 14.
Senior libero Sylvia Hernandez contributed a match-high 16 digs and recorded two of the team’s four service aces. The other two aces were produced by Strantzali. Her counterpart, Angela Seman, led the Panthers with 15 digs.
Senior middle blocker Sakile Simmons led Miami with three blocks, followed by Templeton and Strantzali with two apiece. Pitt outblocked the Canes 10-5 on Sunday afternoon, greatly helped by Markovic’s match-high six blocks.
After an even start, Pittsburgh opened up the first set with a 4-0 run that featured three blocks, forcing a Miami timeout. The Hurricanes quickly shook off the nervous minutes and tied the score at 15 on a kill by senior outside hitter Brooke McDermott, but had no response for what came next: the Panthers went on a 7-1 run before comfortably closing the set, 25-19. Pitt had 17 kills in the set and hit .371 in the opening stanza.
Miami’s momentum in the beginning of the second set was quickly ended by the Panthers, who went on a 10-2 run and led 11-5 as Gandara called a timeout. Sporadic moments of brilliance from various Canes were not enough to spark momentum for Miami, which dropped the second set 25-16. Pitt was even more offensively efficient in the second set before the break and went into the locker room with a 7-2 advantage in blocking.
The Hurricanes won the first point of the third set with a block by Strantzali and Simmons for their first of several short-lived early leads. Miami played from behind for the most of the frame, but back-to-back kills by redshirt freshman outside hitter Elizaveta Lukianova gave the Canes a two-point lead and forced Pitt’s first timeout of the match, 19-17. Lukianova added her third of the match immediately after, while the Hurricanes scored six of the final 10 points to extend the match, 25-21. Miami had three blocks in the third set alone, which was one more than the previous two sets combined.
“[At the break] We had stats that showed what we had to do a little better, we addressed it, talked about what we are capable of, reviewed the game plan a little bit and went back at it,” Gandara said.
The fourth set provided non-stop drama and emotions from the get-go. Miami had the minimal advantage at the media timeout – 15-14 – after a powerful kill by Bird from zone four. The set continued with the same tendency after play resumed, with two- or three-point runs by either team enough to force a timeout by the opponent. Ultimately, the Canes eliminated two Pitt match points to force extra points, but could not deny the Panthers their six straight ACC victory.
Miami will get back on the road next week, heading to Durham, N.C., and Winston-Salem, N.C., for conference contests at Duke (Oct. 13) and Wake Forest (Oct. 15), respectively.
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