Women’s Basketball: Panthers welcome nationally ranked recruiting class

Torie Wytiaz | July 20, 2011    

itt women’s basketball has a bright future, according to ESPN. It  ranked Pitt’s recruiting… Pitt women’s basketball has a bright future, according to ESPN. It  ranked Pitt’s recruiting class among the top 20 in the nation, a first for head coach Agnus Berenato.

With a roster consisting of only seniors and freshmen, the Panthers finished 14-17 (5-11 Big East) last season and missed the post-season. Pitt lost four players to graduation, so the five incoming athletes could battle for playing time early.

Guard Loliya Briggs, regarded as an offensive weapon, could help a Pitt team that struggled to score at times last year. Briggs, combined with classmate Brianna Kiesel, could give a boost to the Pitt backcourt that lost the team’s top three scorers in Taneisha Harrison, Brittaney Thomas and Jania Sims, respectively.

The Panthers will also add three players to the front court in the 2011 class, which will help soften the blow from losing leading rebounders Chelsea Cole and Shayla Scott.

Seven other Big East schools brought in nationally ranked recruiting classes.

Pitt’s class ranks fourth in the conference behind Connecticut (No. 2), Rutgers (No. 3) and Louisville (No. 7). West Virginia’s class was No. 22, followed by DePaul at No. 23, Notre Dame at No. 24 and Georgetown at No. 26.

Berenato credits her staff for excellent recruiting work in securing her first nationally ranked class as head coach.

“Our coaches did an unbelievable job in securing this incoming class,” Berenato said. “We have never had a nationally ranked recruiting group before, and I believe this class will continue to make history.”

Berenato said she was impressed by how well-rounded her new players are and how they succeed both on and off the basketball court. The group should fit in well with the Panthers, who improved their Academic Progress Rate scores from 980 to 990 this year due to perfect scores of 1,000 in eligibility/graduation and retention.

The Academic Progress Rate report looked at academic progress, graduation and retention rates over a four-year period from 2006-07 to the 2009-10 academic years. The 2011 class should only add to the team’s progress as it holds a high school salutatorian, the second highest graduate in a class, and a member of the National Honors Society.

“All of these girls are outstanding students and athletes,” Berenato said. “They excel in sports and academics and truly represent the vision of the University of Pittsburgh as defined by [Chancellor] Mark Nordenberg and [athletic director] Steve Pederson.”

Newcomer Briggs is an example of such a student-athlete. Briggs, a 5-foot-11 guard from Florida, led her high school team to a 37-1 season and multiple national rankings in her senior year before graduating as her class salutatorian.

“Loliya is an exceptional student as well as a player,” Berenato said. “She is coming into Pitt with 18 college credits already.”

Recently, Briggs earned another distinction as she was named to the Nigerian U19 National Team, which will travel to play in exhibition games in France and ultimately the World Championships in Chile in late July.

“Having a Pitt player chosen to represent a national team is a first for us and we are incredibly excited for Loliya,” said Berenato. “That international experience will benefit her and the entire team.”

Another recruit looking to impact the Panthers this season is 6-foot-2 forward Chyna Golden of New Jersey.

Golden, a member of the National Honor Society, earned multiple conference honors during her high school career, including two consecutive first-team nominations and the designation of top defender.

Golden’s parents instilled in their daughter the importance of setting goals in the classroom and on the court. It’s something that Golden hopes to continue to do throughout her collegiate career.

“My mom is a teacher, so academics come first, which is one of the reasons I chose to attend Pitt,” Golden said. “My dad always pushes me to set goals to achieve and for me this year, that goal is to become stronger and quicker and help get the Panthers back into the NCAA Tournament.”

Kiesel, a 5-foot-6 player from Proctor High School in New York, will join Briggs at the guard position.

Despite suffering a wrist injury her junior year, Kiesel managed to set school records for points, assists and steals. Her athletic ability extended to the soccer field as well, where she was named to the all-conference team.

Kiesel, who averaged 22.8 points per game in her senior season, was drawn to Pitt by the welcoming atmosphere that she felt when she arrived on campus for her first visit.

“The coaches, the current players, everyone was just like a family and the team represented almost a sisterhood,” Kiesel said.

She added that the team’s bond has continued to grow throughout the summer.

“Whether through pick-up games and summer league or working out in the community together, all of us, despite our diverse backgrounds, are able to grow closer,” she said.

Becoming part of a tight-knit group will be important for 6-foot forward Cora McManus, who will be traveling all the way from Seattle, Wash., to join the Panthers.

McManus, a McDonald’s All-American nominee, averaged a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds per game in her senior year of high school.

And to Berenato, the forward’s off-court achievements are just as impressive.

“Cora attended Garfield High School which is renowned for its music program, and Cora herself is an accomplished instrumentalist,” Berenato said. “This is just another example of how eclectic and unique our recruiting class is this year.”

McManus also values giving back to the community. She participated in a mission trip to Guatemala last spring where she helped lay the foundation for a school building.

The final member of the 2011 recruiting class is TiAnna Porter, a 6-foot-2 forward and McDonald’s All-American nominee from Paris, Tenn.

As a high school junior, Porter led her team in points and rebounds. During her high school career, she earned a place in the 1,000 Point Club and the National Honor Society.

Overall, Pitt’s 2011-2012 roster will include only sophomores and freshmen, a challenge that Berenato feels her young team is ready to face.

“Our current situation without seniors is actually an exciting time for us,” Berenato said. “With a great class coming in, our staff is excited to get on the court and teach, because that is what we love to do.”

Different backgrounds and interests aside, Berenato said what excites her the most is that the incoming freshmen share the desire to compete and win at the collegiate level.

“We love the competitive spirit of these five young ladies,” Berenato said. “The sky is the limit.”

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