Looking back: a topsy-turvy year in Pitt Athletics

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Looking back: a topsy-turvy year in Pitt Athletics

By Chris Puzia / Contributing Editor

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Everybody wants to brag about their school.

Maybe it’s just human nature to want your friends to know that your school’s sports teams are better than theirs. Regardless, you better make sure that if you’re going to brag about Pitt athletics, you know what you’re talking about.

That being said, let’s recap the past year in Pitt sports so you know which ones to talk about and which ones to avoid.

My freshman year followed Pitt basketball’s infamous 2011-2012 “CBI Year,” so I didn’t have much boasting to work with in the men’s basketball department. After this past year, neither do you.

The Panthers finished last year 19-15 and ducked out in the first round of the NIT to George Washington — the school, not the president. If Washington were still around, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon probably would have tried to recruit him as a junior college center transfer already.

But, somewhat surprisingly, the women’s team took their place by making the NCAA Tournament this past year. Second-year head coach and resident campus badass Suzie McConnell-Serio took a Panther team that had lost 32 straight conference games before her arrival (yes, 32) to a No. 10 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

I like to think she saw the men’s team struggling, put on some dark sunglasses and said, “I got you, Jamie,” before riding away in a Maserati.

But the real story this past year has been football. Scratch that, last season was pretty unremarkable in terms of the team’s record (6-6 for the fourth straight year in former head coach Paul “Neat” Chryst’s final season).

However, after Chryst left to coach Wisconsin, Pitt brought in a new coach with an even better nickname, which I just made up: Pat “#PITTISIT #PATSIGNAL” Narduzzi.

The former Michigan State defensive coordinator brought with him an all-new coaching staff, all of whom love social media more than Chryst loves vanilla-flavored ice cream, probably.

Seriously, look at linebackers coach Rob Harley’s Twitter account. He recently traveled to Delaware to recruit, and while there he made a Wayne’s World reference and a Keep Calm reference in the same tweet. That’s hard to pull off.

Last season, the Panthers were in classic Pitt form by winning some tough games and losing some head-scratchers. They beat Miami and Virginia Tech, but lost to Akron.

That’s not even mentioning the historic collapse to Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Jan. 2. Pitt led 31-6 early in the fourth quarter, but Houston surged back and won the game 35-34.

Now, if you really want to impress your friends, let’s dive into some non-revenue sports.

Arguably one of Pitt’s best and most consistent programs over the past decade has been its wrestling team. Two dominant seniors, Tyler Wilps and Max Thomusseit, led the way for Pitt in what was a bit of a down year by head coach Jason Peters’ standards.

Pitt finished 8-8, but only one of those losses came to an unranked team. Unfortunately for Pitt fans wanting to keep the Backyard Brawl alive, that team was West Virginia.

Wrestling is as much an individual sport as a team sport, however, and Wilps was the national runner-up in the 174-pound weight class, losing to Penn State’s Matt Brown in a controversial and dramatic finish.

Brown earned two points in the final 10 seconds from stalling and locked hands calls that went against Wilps. Still, with the appearance, Wilps became Pitt’s first national finalist since Keith Gavin in 2008. Wilps finished his Pitt career with an 87-31 record, and Thomusseit had a 91-27 mark.

But now that they’re both gone, a couple names for you to watch on next year’s team to carry the squad are Nick Bonaccorsi and Dom Forys.

The team that shares the Fitzgerald Field House with wrestling, Pitt women’s volleyball, played well last season but came up just short, a phenomenon you may begin to hear referred to as “Pitting.”

The Panthers finished 25-6 and 13-5 in the ACC, but barely missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid. Early in the season, Pitt lost some close five-set matches to top-ranked teams like No. 12 North Carolina and No. 4 Florida State.

Next year, keep your eye on names like Casey Durham and Maria Genitsaridi, who hails from Greece’s 11th High School of Heraklion. I know, even better than the 10th High School of Heraklion.

On the soccer pitch, if conference relevance is the English Premier League, both Pitt’s men’s and women’s teams are still stuck in America’s MLS.

The men’s side finished 0-6-2 in the ACC and the women’s group went 2-8. The women’s team is also losing leader Jackie Poucel and will need promising young players like Hanna Hannesdottir and Taylor Pryce to step up next year.

That about covers it, though you still have 93 days between the release of this publication and the first day of fall term. I expect you to spend each of those days intensely studying Pitt athletics so that you can dominate your friends and peers in Pitt sports knowledge.

Good luck.

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