It was a frustrating night, and quick exit, for No. 14 Utah in the second round of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament in Omaha Thursday night.

Pittsburgh swept the Utes, 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-19), at CHI Health Center Omaha. 

“It was a really tough match. I have to give Pitt a ton of credit. They played a great match. I thought they were relentless at coming at us,” said Utah coach Beth Launiere. “I thought we played aggressive, but they kept making one more play than us.”

With the upset, the Panthers (18-4) advanced to the regional semifinal against No. 3 Minnesota Sunday.

Utah became the first nationally seeded team to fall in the tournament and it finished the season with a 13-5 record. 

Thursday marked the Utes’ first match since way back on March 28, when it defeated Washington State. 

Utah’s final two regular-season matches, scheduled for the first weekend in April against Oregon State, were canceled due to COVID-19 issues. 

The Utes played only three times over the last month going into the tournament.

“You don’t want to make excuses, but the reality is it’s been a difficult year and there are some other teams that haven’t played a lot towards the end of the season because of COVID as well,” Launiere said. “I just can’t make any excuses. You get out of rhythm and you’re just not in the competitive situations that you have to be in. You can try and simulate in practice, but it’s just not the same. We came and we prepared and Pitt was the better team tonight.”

Tournament-tested Pittsburgh swept Long Island University Wednesday night in first-round action. Against the Utes, the Panthers simply picked up where they had left off against LIU.

Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee highlighted Pittsburgh’s powerful, versatile attack. Lund recorded a hitting percentage of .467 with 15 kills while Ndee tallied 17 kills and a hitting percentage of .412. 

Dani Drews, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, led Utah with 20 kills and a .341 hitting percentage.

“We came and we prepared and Pitt was the better team tonight.” — Utah head coach Beth Launiere

Pittsburgh was in control in all three sets. The Panthers set the tone early by jumping out to a commanding lead as the Utes hit only .102 in the first set. 

Utah played better in the second and third sets, but Pittsburgh was too much. The Utes trailed 13-11 in the second set and rallied to take a 14-13 lead but the Panthers answered with a 7-3 run to go up 20-16 and closed out the set. 

In the decisive third set, Utah was down 14-13 and had some momentum before Pittsburgh outscored the Utes 11-6 the rest of the way.

“Slowly in every set they just started to widen the gap. We made some nice adjustments, but we really didn’t have an answer for them,” Launiere said. “Our offense started getting going and that made a big difference in sets two and three, but we just didn’t get enough stops. I have to give a lot of credit to them. They were a good team. I knew they were a good team. They executed and we responded, but it wasn’t enough tonight.”

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For the match, the Panthers out-hit Utah, .367-.203. Pittsburgh had five aces and the Utes had none. The Panthers recorded 10 blocks (led by Sabrina Starks’ six) compared to just five for Utah. 

Despite the disappointing ending for the Utes, Launiere appreciated that her team was about to play this season amid a pandemic. 

“You have to be grateful that we’re even here playing in an NCAA Tournament. If you had asked me in the fall, I didn’t think there was any way we could get here. I didn’t know how we would have a season,” she said. “The first time we went to the airport to travel, there was nobody in the airport and we were going to play volleyball. It was surreal. As the season went on you just adjusted.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that we got to play this season even though it was difficult and short. We played half the matches we would normally play and it was hard to get better when you aren’t playing as much. Even with not being able to play as much as we normally would, I’m grateful for all the people that made this happen behind the scenes that helped us play volleyball matches. There are an amazing number of people that went above and beyond so we could play the game we love this spring. It’s amazing.”

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