Pittsburgh drives Gophers out of NCAA volleyball tournament

Rachel Blount, Rachel Blount, Star Tribune
·4 min read

For four years in a row, Pitt's volleyball season ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament. After reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time, the Panthers made more program history Sunday, upsetting the No. 3-seeded Gophers 3-2 in the regional semifinals in Omaha.

The unseeded Panthers (19-4) won their 15th consecutive match and made the Gophers the first Big Ten team to be knocked out of the tournament. The Gophers fell 25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 21-25, 11-15 to end their season with a 16-3 record. Pitt will play in its first-ever regional final Monday against the winner of Sunday's regional semifinal between No. 6 seed Washington and No. 11 seed Louisville.

Senior Stephanie Samedy finished with a match-high 23 kills for the Gophers, while freshman Taylor Landfair and junior Adanna Rollins added 15 kills each. Pitt used a balanced attack with its three big arms. Chinaza Ndee led the way with 19 kills, followed by Kayla Lund (17) and Chiamaka Nwokolo (13).

On the first point of the match, Ndee sent a kill attempt out of bounds and made a face. That summed up much of the first set for the Panthers, who struggled with accuracy and unforced errors.

Pitt kept pace early, taking a 4-3 lead. The Gophers responded with six points in a row, with two of those coming on a Rollins ace and a block by Regan Pittman and Melani Shaffmaster. Lund, the ACC player of the year, committed three attack errors before getting her first kill of the match as Pitt hit .077 for the set.

A 5-0 run put the Gophers ahead 16-10. As the Gophers closed in on taking the set, Pitt made a late push, aided by some Gophers mistakes. Ndee and Sabrina Starks combined for a block that pulled the Panthers within 23-21; following a timeout, Rollins put away a pair of kills to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead.

Though Pitt lost the set, the Panthers steadied themselves as it progressed. And the Gophers, who hit .292 in the first set, lost their touch as they opened the second.

The Panthers led throughout the second set on their way to tying the match. The margin grew as large as six points as the Gophers could not put any early runs together. Trailing 15-10, they finally got on a roll, with a 6-1 charge that cut their deficit to 16-15.

A wayward kill attempt by Pitt's Jordan Lockwood pulled the Gophers even at 23-23. Lockwood and Lund closed it out for the Panthers, who outhit the Gophers .310-.189 for the set.

Pitt won the opening point of the third set, but the officials ordered a replay, saying they were not ready for play to begin. The Gophers took that reprieve and ran with it, reeling off four consecutive points to establish control.

They never relented, answering every Pitt rally with one of their own. Three early blocks helped the Gophers to a 5-0 lead. When Pitt tied the score 8-8, two Landfair kills and two Panthers errors fueled a 4-1 run.

The Gophers' lead dwindled to one point midway through the set before another 4-1 spurt put the Gophers back in command. Samedy finished it off with her 12th and 13th kills, giving the Gophers a 2-1 lead in the match.

Again, Pitt charged back. Three consecutive points put the Panthers ahead 9-6, and they maintained the lead the rest of the way to tie the match.

Sparks contributed four kills and two blocks in a tight set. Four of those came during a 5-1 Pitt run that gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead. The Gophers pulled within three points late in the set but could not get any closer, forcing a fifth set.

Pitt seemed to take a 10-6 lead in the final set, after a Panthers kill attempt appeared to hit the floor. Though the officials blew the whistle, the ball actually hit the foot of Gophers libero Rachel Kilkelly, and the Gophers continued playing. Officials determined the point would be replayed.

The Panthers remained poised, responding with a Zoi Faki ace and finishing the match with two Nwokolo kills.

The Star Tribune did not travel for this event. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the event.