BYU Women’s Volleyball pulls off 30-game four-set home win streak against Pitt

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BYU Women’s Volleyball pulls off 30-game four-set home win streak against Pitt

Alex Tumalip

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

A marathon game that lasted two hours and 25 minutes, there were 31 ties and 10 lead changes in what looked very much 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 game.

Using a six-hit, two-set system, the Panthers topped 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 game. Center blocker Whitney Llarenas added 10 kills on 20 hits to hit .300.

Bower had 42 assists and 12 digs to go along with his five kills, and middle tackle Heather Kniting added nine kills on 19 hits, hitting .316 for the game.

The Panthers came out strong to start the game, scoring on their first two shots and trailing by as much as six. Pitt won the first set on a .367 hit percentage, 15 kills on 30 attempts with just four errors, ruling out 68%. The Cougars hit just .152 with 12 kills
33 attempts with seven errors, at 52%. Pitt’s defense was also strong with four blocks, with BYU having just one.

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

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

The third set was a back-and-forth affair with several long rallies and spectacular defensive plays. Notably, Bower was blocked at net by Pitt middle blocker Selena Gray, who punctuated the trick with a downcast look and a hand wave through the net. That seemed to trigger the Cougars, who raced 5-1 to take a 15-12 lead in the media timeout. The lead grew to five at 20-15, the Cougars’ biggest lead of the night any time in the game, and an overpass gave BYU their first set point, giving the Smith Fieldhouse faithful the opportunity to start the chomp. Another double block to close out the third sent the game down 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 eliminations from 22 total swings, with just two errors combined. The Panthers kicked into high gear on a 5-1 run, which included an incredible dig from 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 before a triple-double.

The Cougars wouldn’t fold, however. Trailing 15-8, Olmstead capitalized on their second and final timeout, and BYU responded with a crucial natural run to cut the lead to five. The lead was eventually reduced to three before Vasquez Gomez scored a huge side run to reduce the lead to four. The Panthers made it to the top 20, eventually pulling out of the win, ending the game on a BYU mishandling.

Dropping their first game of the season, BYU is now 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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