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Virginia volleyball falls to No. 10 Pittsburgh after taking first set at home

A promising start for the Cavaliers ultimately didn’t turn into a win against the first-place Panthers

<p>Memorial Gym was lively yet again for a Virginia volleyball team that seems to be improving with every match.</p>

Memorial Gym was lively yet again for a Virginia volleyball team that seems to be improving with every match.

In front of a lively crowd at Memorial Gymnasium Wednesday, Virginia volleyball managed to hold their own for much of its match with No. 10 Pittsburgh before the Panthers (12-2, 3-0 ACC) ultimately were too much to handle and pulled away late for a 3-1 win.

The Cavaliers (8-6, 0-3 ACC) got off to a hot start, posting an impressive .423 hitting percentage and taking advantage of several Pittsburgh service errors in the first set to take a 1-0 lead.

Virginia posted 14 kills in the first set, led by graduate hitter Grace Turner with five, while sophomore middle blocker Abby Tadder and junior hitter Mary Shaffer added three apiece. 

The Cavaliers never trailed during the first set, as they opened an early 6-2 lead and refused to relinquish it. The Panthers battled back to tie the score on six different occasions, but could never ultimately get over the hump.

The 25-23 win in the first set — Virginia’s first-ever over a top ten opponent — was a momentous one for the program and a big step in the right direction for the rebuilding efforts under Coach Shannon Wells.

In order to avoid a major upset and its first conference loss, Pittsburgh came out with renewed energy in the second set and won five of the first six points. The Cavaliers quickly regained their composure though, and used a 6-0 run to take a 9-7 lead.

After a Panthers timeout, the nation’s tenth-ranked team finally showed why they are one of the country’s premier squads as they rattled off 10 of the game’s next 11 points to build a commanding lead. The two teams traded points the rest of the way as Pittsburgh went on to even the match with a 25-19 set win.

In a back-and-forth third set that featured nine ties and five lead changes, Virginia once again stood tall against their daunting opponent.

With the Cavaliers within just one point at 17-16, however, a Panthers kill sent junior hitter Cat Flood to the service line where she commandeered a set-ending 8-0 run for Pittsburgh. Flood posted two service aces during the dominating stretch, never giving Virginia a chance to regain serve.

The ending of the third set gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead in the match and drained the energy out of Memorial Gymnasium, giving Pittsburgh all the momentum heading into the fourth set.

The Panthers quickly capitalized on the momentum shift as they jumped out to an 11-3 lead, coasting from there to a 25-15 win to clinch the match 3-1.

Despite the loss, Virginia had plenty to be proud of in their showing against Pittsburgh, including their 17.5 blocks, which were the fifth-most in a four-set match in program history.