Oct. 5, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Pitt volleyball suffered its first loss of the ACC campaign, dropping a five-set decision to Virginia at Fitzgerald Field House on Saturday night. Mechael Guess turned in the best performance of her career with 21 kills although the Panthers fell to 11-6 overall and 3-1 in conference action.
Pitt rallied to come back from a first-set loss, winning the second and third, but Virginia (9-7, 2-2 ACC) kept play going with a four-set victory. That sent the match to a fifth, the Panthers' first in ACC play. After the final ball, the scoreboard read in the Cavaliers' favor 25-22, 20-25, 17-25, 25-21, 15-11.
The final frame turned out to be the most intense. Whereas play through the first four sets was determined largely by runs, the fifth was all about trading points early on. The set's seventh tie came at 7-7. Just as the team's switched sides of the court, however, Virginia took control.
The Cavaliers ran off five straight points and got the cushion it needed. The Panthers drew within three on more than one occasion, but some of the errors that had plagued them in the beginning of the match crept back in. That led to the 15-11 loss and its first defeat in conference play.
In the end it was Guess with the match lead in kills. Her total of 21 was a career high for the junior, who also finished with a .425 attack percentage and six blocks. Jessica Wynn and Lindsey Zitzke both posted double-doubles, with Wynn going for 10 kills and 11 digs and Zitzke closing out at 20 assists and 10 digs. Monica Wignot also became the second Panther this season to reach double-figure blocks with 10 (2-8).
Pitt showed it had some fight it in, and it needed to battle to keep itself in the mix early. The Panthers burned both their timeouts early in the first set, the second coming after another attack error gave Virginia an 11-4 lead. At that stage, Pitt has posting an attack percentage of -.364 while Virginia was hitting at a .571 clip.
After such a slow start, it seemed unlikely that the Panthers would be able to challenge the Cavaliers in the opening frame. However, Pitt outscored Virginia 18-14 after calling its final timeout. Three times it clawed its way to within a single point of Virginia, but it was never able to actually pull ahead.
To put themselves in that position, the Panthers enjoyed a 7-0 run that took them from 17-9 down to just 17-16. The Cavaliers helped out with some shaky offense of their own, but Guess also chipped in a couple of kills.
At the end of the first set, Guess had six kills and Pitt had improved its attack percentage back into the positives at .056. Virginia's percentage had some down, but the Cavaliers were still hitting at a more efficient .242.
Pitt was able to rebound from dropping its first set in the ACC, although it didn't immediately look like it would be able to even the match. Virginia took a lead at 4-3 and, although the Cavaliers' advantage was never more than a few points, the score went in their favor for quite some time.
Pitt was able to go on another run and this one resulted in a lead for the home team. Thanks in part to an effort from Casey Durham off the bench, 10 of 12 points went to the Panthers taking them from a 13-10 hole to a 20-15 lead.
After not playing in the first set, Durham ended the second with two kills and four total blocks. Two of those rejections came with Wignot during the run. The blocks were also the first of Durham's career.
Pitt totaled 6.0 team blocks in the second. At the end of the match, that total had reached 17.0, which was the Panthers' highest of the season.
Although its hitting percentage increased to .119 in the second set, Pitt still had some room for improvement. It got that in the third. The Panthers hit .500 with 15 kills and just one attack error in the third frame. Guess, Wynn and Maria Genitsaridi combined for 14 of those kills.
The third was also the only set in which Pitt didn't have to mount a comeback effort. The Panthers led from the first ball and at 10-4 had forced Virginia into a timeout. The lead never got below six points and several times it reached as high as nine. The Panthers could not have asked for a smoother set as they ended things on a block assist from Wignot and Wynn.
As straightforward as the third set was, the fourth was anything but. It also went the way of the Cavaliers, pushing the Panthers to a fifth set for the sixth time this year. With Saturday's loss, Pitt is now 2-4 in matches that go the distance.
The Panthers put themselves in that position after letting the Cavaliers back in the door midway through the fourth. Pitt led 14-9 on a kill from Wignot, capping off an 8-0 run. Virginia then went on a run of its own and with 10 of the next 11 points going its way, had regained the advantage 19-15. Virginia took the chance it was given and quickly evened the match at two sets apiece.
Neither squad put up great numbers in the fourth. Pitt hit just .059 with Virginia going .091. The struggles that had started to make its way into the Panthers' game late in the fourth stuck around in the fifth, snapping Pitt's three-match winning streak.
"I think our passing was up and down tonight," said assistant coach Craig Dyer after the match. "That's one of the things that keep us in a lot of matches, and our passing and serving was just kind of medium tonight."
Pitt will hit the road for its next pair of matches, taking on Miami (Oct. 11) and Florida State (Oct. 13) next weekend. The match with the Seminoles is slated for 2 p.m. and will air on ROOT Sports.
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