Utah Volleyball Will Play Pittsburgh in Second Round of NCAA Tournament

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Tom Denton

U of U Volleyball player, Dani Drews (#1), during the game against Colorado on March 21, 2021 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on campus. (Photo by Tom Denton | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Assistant Sports Editor

 

The University of Utah volleyball team is gearing up for a matchup in the NCAA Tournament against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Utah is seeded at 14 in the nation in the reduced field of 48 for this year’s tournament, earning them a first round bye. Long Island University and Pittsburgh University played Wednesday night, with Pitt, the winner, advancing to face the Utes.

Utah has won two in a row going into the tournament, in between three cancellations that ended their season prematurely. A disappointing loss to Colorado on the road sparked a sweep of the Buffaloes at home just two days later, followed by a big victory over the Washington State Cougars. Utah was scheduled to play Oregon State twice on the road to close out their regular season, but both of those matches were cancelled due to contact tracing within the Beavers’ program. Utah has not played since March 28 as a result, and is now tasked with facing an opponent in Pittsburgh who is fresh off a victory the night before.

The Utes are led by senior Dani Drews, who was recently named Pac-12 Player of the Year. She is the first Utah player to win the award since they joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Drews has been outstanding for the Utes over her four year career, and grabs the highest award in the conference for her efforts this season. Fellow senior Kenzie Koerber was also named to the All-Pac-12 team. Koerber and Drews both have the opportunity to return for one more season next year due to the NCAA freezing the eligibility clock, and the expectation is that both will come back. Juniors Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres and Madelyn Robinson were both honorable mentions for the All-Pac-12 team. 

Pitt has now won 13 games in a row heading into this matchup with Utah. They started the season slowly, losing their first two games against Syracuse and then splitting matchups with Notre Dame and Louisville. Since that loss to Louisville on October 25, they have not lost a game, putting their record at 17-4. This is clearly a team that is red hot and looking to make a run in this tournament. They swept LIU on Wednesday, which is their fourth straight sweep. They have not run up against much competition since the early going of the season, which is why they were not a top 16 seed, but any team that’s this hot is going to be a challenge. 

Utah has their work cut out for them on Thursday evening. They now have their matchup set and can begin their run in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt is a great team, but Utah should be the favorite as the higher seed. If they do get a victory, it sets up a game against the winner of Minnesota and Georgia Tech. Minnesota is the No. 3 seed in the field. Utah and Pittsburgh will play at 8:30 p.m. MDT on April 15.

 

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