Panthers’ historic NCAA event run ends in heartbreaking trend, shedding 3-2 to No. 6 Washington


Pitt’s historic NCAA event run got here to an finish on Monday afternoon, and it occurred in presumably essentially the most heartbreaking approach possible. After successful 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 staff’s first-ever Elite Eight look.

Pitt entered Monday’s match using an upset streak in postseason play. After an undefeated spring portion of the common season, unseeded Pitt beat its first three NCAA event opponents — LIU, No. 14 Utah and No. 3 Minnesota. The sweep of Utah marked Pitt’s first win within the second spherical of the event in program historical past, and the staff adopted that up with a shocking five-set comeback towards the third-ranked Gophers. 

After turning into considered one of two unseeded (not in top-16) groups to make the Candy 16, no staff outdoors of the top-8 seeds certified for the quarterfinals apart from Pitt. However the Panthers didn’t are available trying like underdogs, storming out to a 10-5 lead within the first sport. Washington couldn’t get inside two factors for the remainder of the sport, falling 25-20.

“I assumed they got here out just a little flat and we jumped on them,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher mentioned. 

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 sport 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 getting ready to 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 event. 

Towards Louisville on Sunday, Washington looked unrecoverable at a number of occasions. The staff went down 2-1, earlier than dominating the fourth sport to pressure yet another. Down by six factors within the remaining set, the Huskies mounted a strong comeback to ship the Cardinals dwelling.

“I feel it simply reveals how gritty this staff is,” Washington junior setter Ella Could Powell mentioned. “It’s simply actually enjoyable to see individuals present up in these moments.”

The Huskies dominated the third set towards the Panthers from begin to end, cruising to a 25-16 consequence. The Panthers solely hit a .148 hitting share within the body, whereas Washington shined with .522. 

“We have been sort of simply ready for them to lose it,” Fisher mentioned. “We sort of went a approach just a little bit from what obtained us right here, simply enjoying actually aggressive volleyball.

Washington obtained out to a different robust begin within the fourth sport, taking a 10-6 lead. Every time Pitt would begin to claw again, the Huskies seemingly obtained a well timed enhance from junior outdoors hitter Claire Hoffman and senior outdoors hitter Samantha Drechsel. However the set grew to become really dramatic when the referees acquired extra scrutiny.

With the Panthers trailing 19-15, play stopped when Pitt gamers sought an over-the-net violation on the Huskies. As an alternative, officers known as a violation on Pitt for touching the online. Happily 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 gained 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, slicing the result in two, and a pair performs later the Panthers evened the set 20-20 with an ace from senior outdoors hitter Kayla Lund. 

It solely took a matter of minutes for the problem card to return 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 significant 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, organising a sport 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 mentioned. “We had lots of good, nevertheless it 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 gained six of the primary seven factors earlier than an Ndee kill halted the run. Panther junior outdoors hitter Jordan Lockwood obtained rejected on the web, and Drechsel notched an ace instantly after to present 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 staff’s historic run, the farthest Pitt volleyball has ever made it within the NCAA event. She mentioned the sweep over Utah within the second spherical would reside because the defining second for her.

“I consider in us,” Ndee mentioned. “It’s nearly exhibiting the individuals we’ve all the time been [legit], and I feel that’s what we did on this event. I’m simply actually actually proud. It may be simple to sort of purchase into the concept of us not being pretty much as good as we predict we’re or we are saying are. Displaying up on this event actually planted a seed in our staff that ‘hey we are able to compete with anyone.” 

Fisher mentioned 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 identified that we’re staff for the previous couple of years, however hopefully there’s extra notion that hey, we’re a contender,” he mentioned. “We’re somebody that may make a deep run and may combat for a championship. Hopefully that impacts all the pieces positively — our recruiting, our fanbase. That’s the hope.”

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