Syracuse Shows Life in a Sweep to No. 3 Pittsburgh
By Brad Klein
CitrusTV Volleyball Beat Reporter
When Syracuse began training camp, Head Coach Leonid Yelin said his squad had No. 3 Pittsburgh circled on the calendar. The Orange were looking forward to the prospect of an upset on their home floor while also taking the opportunity to gage their progress.
The day of reckoning arrived on Friday and Pittsburgh (16-1, 5-0 Atlantic Coast) swept Syracuse (4-8, 1-4 ACC) 3-0 in the Women’s Building. Despite not winning a set, Yelin thinks the team’s progression is off the charts based on a narrow 26-24 first set loss.
“We can play as good as they are,” Yelin said. “Now we just have to figure out what we have to do, how we have to practice, how we have to prepare to play more than one set.”
SU trailed 23-19 in the first frame and came back to tie it at 24 apiece. Ultimately, Pitt’s lethal core of junior Kayla Lund, sophomore Sabrina Starks and freshman Chiamaka Nwokolo controlled the net and propelled the Panthers to the 1-0 start. Yelin was pleased with the way his inexperienced middle blockers weathered the storm though.
“We’re starting to get something from our middles,” Yelin said. “I would think we would have much more trouble in the middle. It’s not just hitting. Pitt is running such a fast paced offense. I think they did a pretty good job.”
Outside hitter Polina Shemanova believes she saw a fire in the squad that had been missing.
“I think it was great emotional behavior today. We were fired up because of the opportunity to play against No. 3 in the country. That’s just awesome,” said Shemanova. “We can use it. The first set. That’s what we can keep doing. That will help us in the future games.”
Defensive specialist Aliah Bowllan played for the first time since the middle of September, returning from a right ankle injury, and the Pittsford, N.Y. native did not miss a beat. She racked up 16 digs and three assists. Bowllan agree that the first set was a breakthrough for the Orange.
“That’s the first time we have really played together, and not play as individuals,” Bowllan said. “Something that coach really emphasizes at practice and instills in our program is that we have to play together in order to be successful, especially with a younger team.”
Nevertheless, the Panthers thrashed the Orange in the second set, 25-15, and then the third set, 25-17. During the loss, Syracuse was able to tie up a few loose ends, especially at the service line. SU committed a season-low four service errors to go along with four aces, three of which came from Shemanova.
“I was actually pretty surprised because every time I aced. I was like ‘that was out’, and it just dropped,” said Shemanova. “So it was exciting for me. I did not expect this.”
Syracuse continues to fight for its first win at home on Sunday when they host Virginia at 1 p.m.
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