Fall, Volleyball

Eagles’ Four-Match Road Trip Concludes With Loss at No. 8 Pittsburgh

Two days removed from losing its third-straight contest to ACC bottomfeeder Virginia, Boston College volleyball rounded out its four-game road trip with a match against the best team in the conference: Pittsburgh. The odds certainly weren’t the Eagles’ favor—that’s for sure.

Not only did the Panthers enter the matchup atop the ACC standings, but they were also one of two remaining undefeated programs in the country, the other being No. 1 BYU. To make matters worse for head coach Jason Kennedy’s team, BC hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since Oct. 1, 2000 and had never actually won a match at Fitzgerald Field House.

The drought continued on Sunday afternoon. Even though the Eagles attacked at a .277 clip—.056 higher than their season average—and outdug the Panthers, 37-33, Pittsburgh still managed to sweep BC in straight sets for the fourth time in the past five years, improving to 17-0 on the year.

Although the Eagles (12-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast) failed to steal a frame, the game was hardly lopsided. In fact, every single set was decided by four or less points. No. 8 Pittsburgh (17-0, 6-0) had to fight off a number of BC rallies, especially in the early portion of play. Right from the get-go, the Eagles played just like any underdog would, both gritty and aggressive.

BC jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but—like they did all day—the Panthers responded with a run of their own, scoring four of the game’s next points to storm ahead of the Eagles, 5-4. The first nine points foreshadowed what was to come. In what was truly a back-and-forth affair, the first set boasted seven ties and two lead changes. It wasn’t until Pittsburgh pulled ahead, 11-8, that either team led by more than two points.

Eventually, though, the Panthers bumped their lead up to 16-13 and promptly ripped off a 5-2 run, opening up the match for the first time all night. The substantial scoring margin was short-lived. After Pittsburgh went up, 22-17, Kennedy called a timeout and inserted Jewel Strawberry. The freshman—who logged a career-high 14 kills on the night—tallied four off the bench, cutting the Eagles’ deficit to just one in the final portion of the set. Two Pittsburgh points, however, and the frame was over. Throughout the set, Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee tallied four kills apiece, and the entire Panthers team totaled 16, recording a .361 attack percentage in the process.

As far as lead changes are concerned, the second set was practically identical to the opening frame. Both sides traded points until Pittsburgh rattled off five in a row to up the score to 11-6. That’s when the Eagles dug deep and strung together a 10-5 run, gradually chipping away at the Panthers’ advantage. Soon enough, the match was deadlocked at 17. Rather than making a move, BC watched as Pittsburgh reclaimed the lead and threatened to close out the set.

Trailing, 23-21, Kennedy called another timeout. This time, the stoppage didn’t prove nearly as effective—the Panthers notched two of the next three points, winning their second frame of the night. Although Pittsburgh’s hitting percentage took a dip, its offense was just as potent, in large part thanks to five second-set blocks.

Unlike the first two frames, the Panthers created separation at the beginning of the third set, winning each of the first three points. As soon as BC closed the gap, Pittsburgh burst it back open, extending its lead to 8-3. The Eagles’ offense—namely Clare Naughton and Strawberry—answered with another mini run, turning a five-point frame into a two-point nailbiter for all of a few moments. The Panthers countered with seven of the match’s ensuing eight points to establish a commanding 16-9 advantage.

Orchestrating two more runs, the second of which was a four-point burst that came with its back against the wall, BC hung around in the final frame. But, ultimately, an Eagles attacking error capped a 25-21 Pittsburgh victory—one that officially preserved the Panthers’ perfect record and extended their longest win streak since 1987.

No one expected the Eagles to upset the best team in the conference, let alone on the road, but the loss still serves as an exclamation mark on BC’s winless ACC road stint, a stretch of games that could have very well confirmed the Eagles’ early-season success. Having lost four-straight matches, Kennedy will be tested now more than ever to determine whether he can keep the Eagles’ turnaround season alive in the back half of the year.

Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Staff

October 7, 2018