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Lauren Hogan stood in her normal spot on the court and waited for a spike. As Syracuse’s Elena Karakasi served in the second set, with the Orange up a set on Pittsburgh and leading 26-25, the freshman defensive specialist successfully dug the ball seconds later, causing a kill from senior Ella Saada that ended the set.
After the point, Hogan rolled down her sleeves, wiped the sweat off the floor and headed to the bench to celebrate. Point after point, she stayed planted in the back left corner of the court, anticipating a powerful spike from one of Pitt’s star hitters and diving at the ground to save the point. And after that set, Syracuse was one away from beating the three-time defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions in straight-sets.
“They tried to make adjustments during the game, and I started feeling somewhere in the middle of the game, especially the second set, that I was playing chess more than volleyball,” SU head coach Leonid Yelin said.
In a match that contained fewer blocks and digs than the night before, Syracuse (2-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) needed to find different ways for creating defensive plays upsetting the Panthers (0-2, 0-2) two games in a row. The Orange compiled 42 digs in the match compared to Pitt’s 39, but it was the small difference that propelled them to a 3-0 win on Saturday night.
Hogan led Syracuse with 15 digs and junior Polina Shemanova had the second-highest total with 10 — both more than any players on the Panthers. It was Syracuse’s second victory over Pittsburgh in its opening weekend after winning in five sets the night before.
“It really was not too much different,” Yelin said. “It’s just that both teams were stepping up (from yesterday).”
But before Syracuse won that second set, before it continued building a lead the Panthers never overcame, SU trailed 19-17, and Yelin called a timeout. During the break, Yelin focused his attention on Hogan, mimicking the actual technique that he wanted her to apply.
Immediately after the timeout, Hogan tallied back-to-back digs and tied up the set at 19.
“Coach knows when he has to take a timeout and we just follow his lead,” Karakasi said on how timeouts helped the team. “It’s a way for us to reset mentally and then get back to the court. We try to forget what we did before and just play the next point.”
Syracuse’s defensive plan relied heavily on Hogan’s digging abilities, which is something that she struggled with early on in the game. In the first set, when the game was tied at 8-8, one of Hogan’s dig attempts sailed into the Women’s Building balcony. The next set — with Syracuse trailing 16-13 this time — another attempt from Hogan ended up in the bleachers’ middle rows.
During SU’s first matchup against the Panthers, it also led defensively with 71 digs compared to Pitt’s 67 and 21 blocks compared to 14. But on Saturday, even though the Orange won the first set 25-21, their defensive play didn’t stand out because of missed opportunities.
However, after that timeout in the second set, Syracuse recovered defensively and won the second set 27-25. It carried that defensive momentum into the third set and won, 25-19.
The Orange didn’t have to change anything schematically because of their defensive presence in Friday night’s matchup, Yelin said. Instead, he said the difference between the two games was some of the key defensive substitutions — especially from Viktoriia Lokhmanchuk and Berkley Hayes, Yelin said.
“We all knew what Berkley could do on serve and defense and Viktoriia, she’s coming from an energy and I’m so excited for her that she’s coming back,” Karasaki said.
At the end of the third set, the Orange prepared to defend a Pittsburgh serve leading 23-19. Hogan picked up the return, leading to a kill from sophomore Abby Casiano which brought the entire Syracuse bench on their feet. With SU now at match point, Casiano flexed her muscles at the Pittsburgh blockers.
Another Syracuse point, like many others before it that night, had originated from a defensive play by Hogan.
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