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Jerry DiPaola | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | November 21, 2018

NCAA volleyball: Pitt hoping to host NCAA tournament first-round after strong regular season

Pitt volleyball coach Dan Fisher will tell you his ACC championship team might be better than last year's version that also won the conference and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

He said it is stronger at the net with Kylee Levers, a sophomore setter from Chartiers-Houston, teamed with Kamalani Akeo, a senior and returning first-team All-ACC setter from Kapolei, Hawaii.

"It's helped our blocking, and we're able to intimidate teams a little bit more at the net," he said.

You can see what Fisher has built Wednesday night when Pitt plays Georgia Tech in its last regular-season match. The team will leave its usual home at Fitzgerald Field House and play the first match in program history at Petersen Events Center. They're calling it "Party at the Pete."

A victory would give Pitt its most wins in a season (29) since the Panthers were 32-6 in 1990.

But a team doesn't build a 28-1 record (16-1 in the ACC), a No. 10 national ranking and a No. 7 RPI a week before the start of the NCAA Tournament with just talented athletes. It also takes some important intangibles.

Kayla Lund of Pasadena, California, said Pitt is full of things that don't show up on a stat sheet but keep a team from unraveling.

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"It's not always going to be rainbows, butterflies and happiness," said Lund, a sophomore outside hitter who leads the team with 371 kills. "We definitely can get under each other's skins.

"(Fisher) is very supportive and loves us. It's very clear that he does. But we definitely have a family vibe where, at the end of the day, we love each other. If there's a problem with someone, we're going to talk it out and get to the bottom of it and then go back to loving each other.

"If we're not playing well, he'll let us know and tell us what to fix. But, at the end of the day, he's always there for us."

The result might be historic when the NCAA announces its 64-team tournament field Sunday night. Pitt could be one of 16 host sites for the two-day first round of the tournament Nov. 31 and Dec. 1.

If the NCAA rewards Pitt with hosting responsibilities — and its No. 7 RPI ranking increases the chances — those games also will be at the Pete. It will be up against the men's basketball City Game between Pitt and Duquesne one night and the football team's appearance in the ACC championships game the next, but Fisher doesn't mind.

MORE: How low teams can be in RPI to still receive an at-large to the NCAA tournament

"Gosh, I really want to (host)," he said.

Landing the first round will be a gauge of how much the program has improved in Fisher's six seasons. He is the second-longest tenured coach on campus — behind track and field's Alonzo Webb — and his creation is what enticed Lund to travel cross-country to go to college.

Lund's parents were athletes at Notre Dame — mom played volleyball and dad baseball — but when the Irish changed coaches in the middle of her recruiting cycle, she became a free agent of sorts.

She wasn't especially interested in nearby UCLA or USC, but Pitt, nearly 2,500 miles away, had what she was seeking.

OTHER: How La Salle volleyball went from 1-31 to 17 wins and finishing third in the A-10

"I wanted to do something different," she said. "I never really wanted to go to a place with a huge name. That was something so typical of everybody from where I'm from to go and do.

"I wanted to do something different and make my path and be my own person and make my own legacy somewhere. The culture they are trying to create here is unique and something I didn't see anywhere else. I knew they were starting to create a name for the program, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that. That vision they had really drew me.

"It's pretty surreal. We're so stoked. We're feeling very grateful that we got moved out (to the Pete) for a game."

This article is written by Jerry DiPaola from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.