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#13 Georgia Tech and #7 Pitt Five Setter Goes the Panthers Way

Breland Morrissette’s Career Day

#13 Georgia Tech lost a nail biting heartbreaker to #7 Pittsburgh in the Peterson Events Center, making it where neither GT/Pitt game this season took place in their regular homes. After Pitt took a close first set 25-21, Tech won the next two sets 25-22, 25-23. Pitt squeezed out the fourth set 25-22, and had to fight Tech on four match points to win the 5th, 19-17.

Breland Morrissette was Tech’s standout, hitting 20 kills to double her career high. With her 9 blocks, she was also Tech’s point leader by one over Julia Bergmann.

Speaking of Bergmann, it was another classic Bergmann match with high volume attacks, a ton of kills, plenty of digs, and aces sprinkled in. It was her 12th 20 kill game this season and 11th double-double, bringing her season kill total to 500 and career kill total to 1,692 with one regular season match remaining.

Defensively, Tech played out of their minds. Bianca Bertolino, Bergmann, and Paola Pimentel totaled 58 of Tech’s 77 digs. For a five set match, non-attack errors were minimal on both sides. Tech recorded 11 return + blocking errors to Pitt’s 12. Bertolio led all Tech players in WPA with a 1.65 in the match, 0.77 of that coming from her defense.

Set by Set

Tech gained their biggest lead in the set early on, going up 14-9 after Breland landed her only ace of the match. Pitt quickly took that lead away tying it at 15, at which point both teams were hitting over .450%. Pitt went on a 6-0 run to take a 23-18 lead, easily closing the set out 25-21. Pitt’s Courtney Buzzerio hit 8 kills in the set to lead all players.

The second set was neck and neck up to 17-17. Pitt from the eye test had control of the set until a Bergmann kill made it 18-17, where Pitt called timeout. Three points later and Pitt used their last timout of the set after Morrissette put up a solo block to make it 20-18 Georgia Tech. Tech held the lead and won 25-22 after a service error by Dillyn Griffin, setup by Head Coach Michelle Collier calling timeout to ice her before serving.

Set three took its time for Tech to really get into it. Both sides were tied at seven before Pitt went on a 10-6 stretch that forced Collier to call a timeout to stop the bleeding before the set got out of hand. In a seven point stretch after, Breland reached and beat her career kill mark, including back to back kills to make it 20-17 Pitt. The Panthers called timeout, but could not stop the bleeding as Breland hit two more kills in the last four points of a 6-0 run that put Tech ahead 21-20. Bergmann completed the comeback set win with back to back kills to finish it 25-23 and give Tech a 2-1 set lead.

At this point, Morrissette had a guaranteed free set to increase her personal kill record as far as she could get it, and got to 15 kills on the first point. Pitt though was clicking very well on offense in what really was Tech’s only defensive poor stretch, going down 10-5 early. A block and kill by Morrissette were part of a three point run that got Tech back in it to 10-8. The score was within two points or tied all the way to 19-19, where Buzzerio via blocks and kills powered a four point run, putting Tech out of it and winning the set for Pitt 25-22. It was the only set both teams hit under .200.

Going into the fifth set, both sides were playing punch for punch with nothing but a few blocks differentiating the two teams.

Team stats after four sets.
Stats via Pittsburgh Athletics

At worst by this point, Tech had played a match proving they can hang in there on the road with a top 10 team, something they hadn’t done all season.

The fifth set was a great microcosm of how talented and gutsy both of these teams are. If they played to seven sets, it would’ve been to the wire even that far out. Tech quickly got to a 3-0 lead, critical in the set that only goes to 15 points. Pitt used both of their timeouts by the time Erin Moss hit a free ball kill to make it 9-5 Tech. A kill by Bertolino after the timeout had Tech doubling Pitt and five points from the win. Pitt though put on another rally, winning five of the next seven points to make it 12-10 from four kills by Valeria Vazquez Gomez. At 13-10, a Vazquez kill, two untimely attack errors by Tech, and an ace by Rachel Fairbanks gave Pitt match point at 14-13. Tech saved three match points, but Pitt finally nailed the final point, their 114th of the match, to win 19-17, 3-2.

Emotions and Player Spotlights

Having watched nearly every point of this Georgia Tech Volleyball season, I personally was not distraught in the slightest by the result of this match. Just getting to five sets on the road versus a top 10 team is a gigantic accomplishment in itself. Of course, winning is preferred, but to only takeaway that Tech didn’t win from this game completely shorts the incredible performances by the team.

Hear me when I say this, this was Tech’s best game all season. There was no demoralizing stretch of points allowed. Kills were coming from all over the place. Defensively, Tech was on point and minimizing the spots where they usually get exploited. Bergmann had FORTY more attacks than Morrissette, and still we had two players with 20+ kills. The stats will show their part, but there are some games that are obviously the best because of how unique of an experience it was and the kind of trial it presented.

On Bergmann: She had 71 attempts, hitting only .155 with 14 errors. This though isn’t abnormal against high quality teams like Pitt who can effectively throw up a double or triple block at will against her. She only hit .232 in the previous Pitt game. In a sense, even with the team lead 25 kills, she becomes a sort of decoy to allow the rest of the team to become effective in the attack. Her pure talent is unmatched on the team, but it also is a smokescreen when necessary. Her 1.19 WPA in the match is a mere 0.01 behind Bella D’Amico for 2nd teamwide.

On Morrissette: Player of the game for Georgia Tech in our book. She doubles her career kill record at 20. She hit .581, 20 kills on 31 attempts. Absolutely insane stuff. She also leads all players in blocks with nine. Her two errors are just slight misreads of D’Amico’s sets, they weren’t her fault. Without this performance, Tech loses before we can even think about a fifth set. Games like this are what makes this team so great. We have the likely ACC Player of the Year in Bergmann, but the supporting cast of the starting rotation is so good that when a standout game is needed, we have the people there to give those performances. Last night, it was Breland’s turn.

On Bertolino: Bianca in the backrow also put up a crucially good performance, hitting .440 with 12 kills, her 2nd most all season. Her 24 digs match her career high set against Louisville two weeks ago. She wasn’t the flashy one on the team, but she was rock solid in the back, holding up many points with high quality digging. Her Dig WPA alone was a 0.75, 0.20 points clear of anyone else in the category.

In the End...

Final stats
Stats by Pittsburgh Athletics

An otherworldly match by two powerhouse teams was perfect entertainment for those who tuned in or were at the match. 3,556 people came to the Peterson Events Center, Pitt’s 2nd largest home crowd on record. Both matches this season were so hyped they couldn’t fit in either home venue in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Per HuskerGeek’s EPIC Rating (a measure of game quality combined with team quality), this was 8th best game of the NCAA D1 season, only to be outdone yesterday by Maryland’s four-set loss to #19 Purdue.

Looking Forward

Tech plays one final match before Selection Sunday, home in O’Keefe at 1pm on Saturday against Florida State. It is indeed during the football game, so we don’t blame you if this doesn’t hit your viewing radar. But, if things are going south in Athens by halftime, you have a great backup viewing option.

While this was a loss, it was as good a loss as a team fighting for NCAA Tournament seeding would want. Tech has sat 10-13 range in the AVCA Coaches Poll for the past few weeks. The top 16 seeds will host NCAA Tournament games. A win Saturday is crucial to keep those hopes alive for Tech.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends. Go Jackets!