BYU women’s volleyball snaps 30-match home win streak in four set loss to Pitt

No. 10 Pitt defeated No. 7 BYU three sets to one (25-19, 25-22, 19-25, 25-21) at the Smith Fieldhouse Saturday night in the championship match of the BYU Nike Invitational.

A marathon match that lasted two hours and 25 minutes, there were 31 ties and 10 lead changes in what felt every bit like an NCAA tournament game. The Panthers, who made the Final Four last season, had the answer to every BYU rally as they hit .299 for the match.

Using a six-hitter, two-setter system, the Panthers went over the .300 mark in each of the three sets they won. The Cougars were led by Erin Livingston, who had 20 kills, hitting .320 for the match. Middle blocker Whitney Llarenas added 10 kills on 20 swings to hit .300.

Bower had 42 assists and 12 digs to go with her five kills, and middle blocker Heather Gneiting added nine kills on 19 swings, hitting .316 for the match.

The Panthers came out strong to start the match, scoring on their first two swings and led by as many as six. Pitt won the first set thanks to a .367 hitting percentage, 15 kills on 30 attempts with only four errors, siding out at 68%. The Cougars hit just .152 with 12 kills on
33 attempts with seven errors, siding out at 52 percent. Pitt’s defense also came up big with four blocks, with BYU tallying just one.

BYU came out better to start the second, leading 11-9 after a rare hitting error by Valeria Vasquez Gomez. Cougar setter Whitney Bower also kept the Panthers off balance, scoring three times on second contact to keep them in front, and Livingston released a rocket into the deep corner to give BYU a 15-13 lead at the media timeout.

The momentum soon turned as Pitt went on a 5-0 run, aided by a failed in-out challenge by BYU head coach Heather Olmstead and an ace by Pitt’s Julianna Dalton. The Cougars chipped away and eventually tied the set at 22 after a monster double block, forcing Pitt head coach Dan Fisher to use his last timeout. However, Pitt showed its mettle that sent the Panthers to the Final Four last season, scoring the final three points to take a 2-0 lead in the match.

The third set was a back-and-forth affair with several long rallies and spectacular defensive plays. Notably, Bower was blocked at the net by Pitt middle blocker Selena Gray, who punctuated the stuff with a stare-down and hand wave through the net. That seemed to spark the Cougars, who went on a 5-1 run to take a 15-12 lead at the media timeout. The lead grew to as many as five at 20-15, the Cougars’ largest lead of the night at any point during the match, and an overpass kill gave BYU its first set point, giving the Smith Fieldhouse faithful an opportunity to start the Chomp. Another double block to close out the third sent the match to a fourth set as the Fieldhouse went into a frenzy.

Vasquez Gomez and Courtney Buzzerio took over in the fourth set for Pitt, as the duo combined for 11 kills on 22 total swings, with only two combined errors. The Panthers kicked into gear on a 5-1 run, which included an amazing dig by setter and outside hitter Rachel Fairbanks, allowing Buzzerio to hit another crosscourt winner. Fairbanks finished with 30 assists and 16 digs with seven kills, three kills shy of a triple double.

The Cougars would not fold, however. Trailing 15-8, Olmstead used her second and final timeout, and BYU responded by picking up a crucial natural point to cut the lead to five. The lead was eventually cut to three before Vasquez Gomez got a huge side-out point to push the lead back to four. The Panthers reached 20 first, eventually siding out to the win, ending the match on a BYU hitting error.

Dropping their first match of the season, BYU now sits at 5-1. The Cougars will hit the road to face Ohio State and No. 5 Georgia Tech in the
Georgia Tech Classic this Thursday and Friday in Atlanta.

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