It was a frustrating night and a quick exit for No. 14 Utah in the second round of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament in Omaha on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh swept the Utes 3-0 (25:16, 25:18, 25:19) at the CHI Health Center Omaha.
“It was a very difficult game. I have a lot of credit to do to Pitt. You played a great match. I thought they’d be adamant if they came to us, ”said Beth Launiere, Utah coach. “I thought we were playing aggressively, but they kept playing one more game than us.”
With the surprise, the Panthers (18-4) reached the regional semifinals against Minnesota No. 3 on Sunday.
Utah was the first national team to fall into the tournament, ending the season with a 13-5 record.
Thursday was the Utes’ first game since March 28, when they defeated Washington State.
The last two regular season games in Utah, slated for the first weekend in April against Oregon State, have been canceled due to COVID-19 issues.
The Utes only played three times in the last month of the tournament.
“They don’t want to make excuses, but in reality it was a difficult year and there are some other teams that didn’t play much towards the end of the season because of COVID,” Launiere said. “I just can’t make excuses. You’re out of rhythm and just not in the competitive situations you need to be. You can try simulating in practice, but it’s just not the same. We came and prepared and Pitt was the better team tonight. “
Pittsburgh, which was tested by the tournament, defeated Long Island University in the first round on Wednesday evening. Against the Utes, the Panthers simply started where they had left off against LIU.
Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee highlighted Pittsburgh’s powerful, eclectic attack. Lund had a hit percentage of 0.467 with 15 kills, while Ndee had 17 kills and a hit percentage of 0.412.
Dani Drews, Pac-12 Player of the Year, led Utah with 20 kills and a hit rate of .341.
“We came and prepared, and Pitt was the better team tonight.” – Utah’s head coach, Beth Launiere
Pittsburgh was in control in all three sets. The Panthers set the tone early on by jumping to a commanding lead as the Utes only hit .102 in the first set.
Utah played better in the second and third sets, but Pittsburgh was too much. The Utes followed in the second set at 13:11 and rallied to take the lead at 14:13, but the Panthers responded with a 7-3 run to hit 20:16 and close the set.
In the decisive third set, Utah fell 14-13 and had some momentum before Pittsburgh beat the Utes the rest of the way 11-6.
“Slowly in every sentence they just started widening the gap. We made some nice adjustments, but we really didn’t have an answer, ”said Launiere. “Our offensive has started and that made a big difference in sets two and three, but we just didn’t get enough stops. I have to do them a lot of credit. They were a good team. I knew they were a good team. They executed and we responded, but it wasn’t enough tonight. “
For the match, the Panthers beat Utah, .367-.203. Pittsburgh had five aces and the utes had none. The Panthers posted 10 blocks (led by Sabrina Starks’ six) compared to just five for Utah.
Despite the disappointing ending for the Utes, Launiere appreciated that her side would play amid a pandemic this season.
“You have to be grateful that we’re even playing in an NCAA tournament here. If you’d asked me in the fall, I wouldn’t have thought we could come here. I didn’t know how we would have a season, ”she said. “When we first went to the airport to travel, there was no one at the airport and we wanted to play volleyball. It was surreal. Over the course of the season, you’ve just adjusted.
“I am grateful for the opportunity we were allowed to play this season, although it was difficult and short. We played half the games we would normally play and it was hard to get better when you weren’t playing that much. Even though we can’t play as much as we normally would, I am grateful to all of the people who made this possible behind the scenes, who helped us play volleyball games. There are an amazing number of people who went out of their way to play the game we love this spring. It is wonderful.”