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Lauren Hogan grabbed a new ball before stepping up to the line for Syracuse’s first serve of the second set. Pittsburgh quickly returned it, but Hogan set the ball up for junior Polina Shemanova to send over the net. The move gave the Orange a 2-1 lead in the set, their first lead of the match. Syracuse immediately scored two more points, taking a 4-1 lead before the Panthers took their next serve.
The Orange would never surrender that lead by more than two points during their season-opener on Friday, holding defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1) to just 17 points in the second game of the five-set match.
In the second, third and fifth sets — all of which Syracuse (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) won — the team’s ability to go on long scoring runs and prevent Pitt from having a chance to serve was the common thread.
“Getting those runs is so important, especially for a team like Pitt who is extremely aggressive, and they come back with force,” sophomore and captain Abby Casiano said.
Syracuse struggled to gain momentum in the first set, with nearly all of their points coming on single points or two in a row. While the Panthers never had a long run, their consistency held them a few points above SU for the entire set.
Pittsburgh didn’t have their first service point in the second set until an ace by Zoi Faki, their 12th point of the set. At that time, however, Syracuse had already taken a two-point lead in the set. The Orange had capitalized on five multi-point runs and, up to that point, had managed to return all of Pitt’s serves.
The Panthers — who finished 2019 at No. 11 in the nation — were second in the ACC in ace rate last year, averaging 1.44 aces per set. Not allowing Pitt to serve was crucial for the Orange, who held them to three total aces the entire match.
Throughout the match, Syracuse had 10 runs of three points or more, with the longest being a seven-point run in the third set that gave the Orange an 11-4 lead early on. Playing from behind, the Panthers became sloppier as they tried to retake the lead. Four of the seven points in that run were on attack errors by three different players.
“It is definitely huge for the team when you keep winning again and again and again because it puts the team you’re playing down,” Shemanova said. “And it’s really hard mentally to recover from that.”
Like the first set, Pitt built an early lead that Syracuse struggled to come back from. Pitt scored four consecutive points midway through the set but never built long runs like Syracuse did in the second and third sets.
In the fifth set, a kill and an attack error by Pitt gave the Orange a two-point lead and helped them build momentum. They scored two more points before the next Pitt serve and finished the set on an 8-2 run to give them their first win over Pitt since 2015.
One of the best parts about stringing together points is heightened emotions, Shemanova said. Players are more fired up, and the adrenaline helps power them through tiredness during a run. After every point, the players screamed and hugged each other. The bench was just as excited, jumping and yelling after each play that ended in a Syracuse point.
“Even though we didn’t have fans, we were screaming for the fans,” Shemanova said. “Our bench did a great job. I was hearing them from the court and was like, ‘this is the support we need. Definitely.’”