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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020 at 9:35 pm

Syracuse Silences the Doubters, Beats Pitt in Both Games In Opening Weekend

By Leo Silverman

CitrusTV’s Volleyball Beat Reporter

Coming into the start of the season, many people (including myself) believed Syracuse would drop both games versus Pitt to kick off the 2020 campaign. The Panthers were coming off a historic season, as they went 18-0 in ACC play and made the NCAA tournament. Each starter from that squad returned for Pitt in 2020.

But Syracuse (2-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) defied the odds, taking both games against Pitt (0-2, 0-2 ACC) to start 2-0 for just the fourth time in Head Coach Leonid Yelin’s tenure. On top of that, SU beat the Panthers in straight sets in game two, the first time since 2017 Pitt has been swept in a game. Despite the dominant second win, coach Yelin had high praise for the team from western Pennsylvania.

“We played against a really good team,” said Yelin. “I don’t see much difference in their play from the year before when they won conference.”

The staple for Syracuse volleyball over the past couple years has been the offense, and 2020 is no different. Junior Polina Shermanova picked up right where she left off last year with 20 kills in game one against Pitt, a much closer match that saw SU pull out the victory 3-2. 

Game two was a rare quiet performance from Shermanova, who only had eight kills. Senior Ella Saada and Sophomore Marina Markova each had eight kills of their own. The fact that SU was able to show they can win with a quiet outing from SU’s All-ACC outside hitter is very promising going forward.

Many of those  kills came off sets from Junior Elena Karakasi, who leads the team with 87 assists through two games. For perspective, Freshman Lauren Hogan is second with just 8 assists. 

“She’s the conductor of our game,” said Shermanova, with high praise for Karakasi. “Without her sets, I wouldn’t get the kills.”

The major question mark coming into the 2020 season was libero. After Aliah Bowllan graduated last year, nobody knew if Sophomore Berkley Hayes or Freshman Lauren Hogan would earn the starting spot. All speculation went out the window when Hogan was named starting Libero for the first game on Friday. Hogan came in and played a crucial role, tallying 21 digs in that decisive first win, impressing her coaches and teammates alike.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had, in my eight years, a freshman Libero step on the floor and play great off the bat,” said Yelin.

“She looked like she’d played a million college volleyball games,” said Sophomore Abby Casiano.

With the offense firing on all cylinders and questions at Libero answered, the sky’s the limit for this team. SU will hit the road this weekend for a two-game series in Indiana versus an undefeated Notre Dame squad. Game one will be on Friday at 7 p.m.

msilve09@syr.edu | @LeoSilverman