Janice Leao’s career night not enough as Canes fall to No. 4 Pitt

In 2021, Miami proved time and time again that they are a capable, competent team in the extremely talented Atlantic Coast Conference.

Through the team’s first five matches, the Hurricanes posted a 5-1 record, sweeping three of their victories and falling only to No. 2 Louisville.

However, few matches can speak to the team’s grit and competitiveness more than Friday night’s loss to No. 4 Pitt at the Knight Sports Complex.

Miami (14-3, 5-2 ACC) entered the match fresh off of a five-game winning streak and looked to make a statement versus a Pittsburgh Panthers (16-1, 6-1 ACC) team that has dominated college volleyball all season long. While the Hurricanes ultimately fell short in four sets after winning the match opener, they held their own throughout, dropping the last three sets by less than 10 points each.

“Pitt has been the standard in our conference for a while. It’s the level everyone is trying to get to,” Head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “We aren’t quite there yet, but I think there’s lots to be encouraged by.”

The entire first set was a heated back-and-forth exchange of points between Miami and Pitt, and both teams struggled to establish a comfortable lead. With the game tied at 16-16, the Canes went on a 4-0 run led by two aces from Peyman Yardimci. The four-point advantage was more than enough insurance as the Canes and Panthers proceeded to trade points until a block from middle blockers Janice Leao and Aristea Tontai secured a 25-21 set win.

Despite the encouraging victory to open the match, fatigue struck the Canes deeper into the match and Pitt’s defense forced lengthy rallies and an uncharacteristically high amount of attack errors from Miami’s offense.

In the second set, the Hurricanes put forth their best offensive display of the night, posting a .300 hitting percentage and logging 14 kills. However, Miami’s best efforts were no match for that of Pitt’s, as the Panthers smashed 19 kills in 28 attempts with three attack errors for a hitting percentage of .571 to guide Pitt to a 25-22 set victory.

In the third and fourth sets, the Canes struggled to find an offensive rhythm and failed to reach double-figures in kills in both sets. Miami posted match-lows in hitting percentages with .056 and .049, respectively, and committed 11 attack errors.

While Pitt’s 13 attack errors in the final two sets served to Miami’s benefit, the Panthers’ 31 kills were more than enough to compensate for their offensive mistakes. Pitt posted hitting percentages of .265 and .231 in sets three and four, winning by scores of 25-16 and 25-18.

In the match, Leao stuffed the statsheet with 15 kills in 27 attempts and five blocks, and Savannah Vach led all players on the floor with 33 assists.

With their toughest opponents of the season behind them, the Canes look to return to their winning ways against Virginia (8-9, 1-6 ACC) on Sunday.

They will play the Cavaliers at the Knight Sports Complex at 1 p.m. to conclude a short two-match homestand before traveling to Winston Salem, North Carolina to take on Wake Forest.