Four years of frustration obliterated in a single moment.
Her kill gave the Panthers a 15-13 win and sent them to the NCAA semifinals for the second straight season. Pitt (31-3) will face ACC co-champion Louisville (30-2) at 9 p.m. Eastern Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska, for a spot in the final against the winner of the San Diego-Texas semifinal.
Buzzerio had kills to score three of the Panthers’ final four points and finished the match against Wisconsin with 18 kills. In Pitt’s four-set win over Florida in the regional semi, the 6-foot-5 product of Chino Hills, California, had 19 kills, five blocks, an ace and a team-high eight digs.
Buzzerio had plenty of experience against Wisconsin. She played her first four years in the Big Ten for Iowa. This time?
“They (Wisconsin) were very comfortable with me,” Buzzerio said. “They scouted me very well, (coach Kelly) Sheffield and the players did a great job of executing their game plan against me.
“Throughout the match, the kills didn’t come as easy for me as I would have hoped for or how they have in past matches. I just had to muscle my way through blocks, just kind of work through it … That’s a testament to (setter) Rachel (Fairbanks) still trusting me in those types of moments.”
They were moments Buzzerio had not been able to relish before. Iowa won only 17 matches over her final three seasons — none against Wisconsin.
What would have been her most successful season with the Hawkeyes, 2018, when she was a seldom-used freshman, didn’t count. Iowa had to vacate its 15 wins from 2018 — and 18 wins from 2017 — when it was discovered that coach Bond Shymansky had given illegal benefits to a transfer.
One of those vacated wins in 2018 was against Wisconsin. The Badgers swept the Hawkeyes in each of their four subsequent meetings during Buzzerio’s time in Iowa City. (The teams didn’t play each other in the pandemic-altered 2020-21 season.)
“Just winning (in Madison) would be a big thing,” she said. “But with the stakes so high, it was even sweeter.”
What a difference a season makes.
Under coach Dan Fisher, Buzzerio has become one of the top right-side hitters in the nation, hitting at a .329 clip. That’s also a high number for someone who was recruited as a setter. With her height, Buzzerio looks more the part of an outside hitter than a setter, but at Iowa, she spent half of her time dishing assists rather than being the beneficiary of them.
Once she got regular playing time as a sophomore, she split duties as a setter — running both 5-1 and 6-2 offenses — and right-side hitter. She ranked second on the team in kills and assists. As a junior, she led the Hawkeyes in kills and again was second in assists and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.
By the time she was a senior, she was strictly a hitter and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, becoming just the 10th player in program history to get multiple all-conference honors. She had 436 kills and hit .229.
“It really just came down to what the team needed,” Buzzerio said about her dual role for the Hawkeyes. “I was the most versatile to do that.”
What Pitt needed was someone to fill the considerable void left by the graduations of Kayla Lund, Chi Ndee and Lekator Member-Meneh. That trio led Pitt to the regional semifinals in the spring 2021 season, a first for the program, and then to the national semifinals in 2021.
The cupboard was hardly bare for the Panthers. They had a cadre of capable hitters returning: Valeria Vazquez Gomez, Serena Gray, Chiamaka Nwokolo and Fairbanks. Buzzerio, however, provided a potential go-to.
And Pitt has gone to her plenty. She leads the Panthers with 448 total kills, a higher total than her senior season at Iowa but in fewer swings. Buzzerio has 985 total attacks this season as opposed to 1,099 last season — nearly eight fewer swings per match.
Buzzerio’s lighter workload speaks to Pitt’s offensive versatility, and the efficiency speaks to the connection Fairbanks and fellow setters Lexis Akeo and Cam Ennis have formed with the hitters.
“This team, it’s quite easy to be a setter because every single option is a good option,” said Fairbanks, who averages 7.09 assists per set. “I feel comfortable with every single one of them. I’m never stuck in a rotation, and Courtney is hitting at a high percentage from everywhere, so I know if we’re stuck, I can always count on her. But I can count on any hitter on our team.”
Added Buzzerio: “I had wanted to be in this position and wanted to put this team back in this position that they were last year … Big shoes to fill. It’s just a testament to (Fisher), his program, how he runs it, the girls that have been here for four or five years and the work they have put in … people being ready on command to perform and be ready to go all out.
“I think I have gotten so much better in such a short period of time. I’ve only been here for six months, and I think my game has elevated in a crazy way. I’m a completely different player than I was a year ago … A year ago, I was on the couch watching them beat Purdue.”
Her primary value has been as a hitter, but Buzzerio has shown the ability to play an all-around game. She ranks second on the Panthers with 33 aces, has 109 digs and is third with 82 total blocks.
She will need all of her arsenal if the Panthers are to advance to the program’s first national-championship match. Pitt and Louisville split their regular-season series — Pitt won 3-2 at home and got swept at Louisville — so shared the ACC championship. Perhaps not coincidentally, in Pitt’s win over the Cardinals, Buzzerio hit .302. In the loss, she was held to .207.
Regardless of the outcome Thursday, Buzzerio has packed a career’s worth of memories into one season at Pitt. The 31 victories are nearly twice what she experienced in her time at Iowa, and every NCAA Tournament game is another milestone for her.
“When I look at it, numbers-wise, it’s kind of mind blowing, and I’m just grateful to be part of it,” she said. “They trusted me to come into this program to be in the position that I’m in.
“Long time coming but in a short, crazy six months. All that I expected (when I came to Pitt) was met in the first week. Everything else has been so much better.”