Women’s soccer team announces 2017 recruiting class


Pitt women's soccer head coach Greg Miller will coach five new players next season. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

By Bayard Miller | Assistant Sports Editor

In the 2016 season, the Pitt women’s soccer team did not score very often, finishing last in the ACC for offense and averaging a measly 0.44 goals per game. Nevertheless, the team netted promising prospects in their 2017 recruiting class, which head coach Greg Miller announced Monday night.

The team welcomed midfielders Alexis Bengel and Kendall Higgs, defenders Aideen O’Donoghue and Kylie Olexa and forward Jess McCoppin onto the squad.

“The 2017 squad is a strong, talented and athletic group of young women,” Miller said in a press release. “They collectively have all of the qualities you want in an incoming group on and off the field, and we are excited to get them integrated into our squad this summer.”

The Panthers have enjoyed very little success since coming to the ACC in 2013 and the team stumbled its way into last place in the conference this past season. The program finished the season with a 2-15-1 record overall and won just a single game in conference play. The team will play without five starting seniors next season, including defenders Arielle Fernandez, Siobhan McDonough, Emily Pietrangelo and Niki Hopkins as well as goalkeeper Taylor Francis.

Although the team is losing stellar goalie Francis and four veteran defenders, Miller said the recruiting class can make up for the losses.

“Graduating some defenders this past season, we had to address that line specifically in this class,” Miller said in a press release. “But, [we] were also able to add some depth to a couple of other lines, which will make us a more competitive team in 2017.”

Four of the incoming players will enroll in the University in the fall, but midfielder Kendall Higgs from Loxahatchee, Florida, has enrolled early and is already participating in spring practices with the team.

“Graduating early and being here this spring allows her to get acclimated to school, the level of play and our culture, which will pay dividends for her this fall,” Miller said with regard to Higgs in a press release.

Two of the five new women are local, with defender Aideen O’Donoghue and midfielder Alexis Bengel both from Western Pennsylvania.

In high school, O’Donoghue helped lead her team — Canon-McMillan High School — to a national No. 8 ranking, according to Maxpreps. She also played club for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds since she was 12 and was a starter on the 2014 US Club National Championship team. Her ability has been noticed by experts, and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) named O’Donoghue a High School All-American this past season.

“[O’Donoghue] possesses all the characteristics of a shutdown defender,” Miller said. “[She] will make us a more dangerous team next fall.”

Alexis Bengel, who grew up in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania, was captain of Highlands High School’s team her senior year and was named to the WPIAL All-Conference team.

“She is a versatile player who displays tremendous heart, work ethic and a team-first mentality that will deepen our roster,” Miller said.

The other two incoming first-years are both from North Carolina. Forward Jess McCoppin from Cary and defender Kylie Olexa from Raleigh will make the trip north to Pittsburgh over the summer to begin prepping for the season with the team.

McCoppin is not the only successful athlete in her family. Her mother, Allison, competed for the Canadian national team in the heptathlon, and her father, Andy, rowed varsity crew at the University of California, Berkeley, according to Pitt’s athletic department. She leaves her high school, Cary Academy, as the all-time leading scorer, with 61 goals.

“She is a forward who is capable of scoring goals and is as good as a set-up artist,” Miller said. “She plays with great perseverance, grit and is a relentless defender out of possession. She will deepen our frontline group.”

Rounding out the class is Olexa, who attended North Raleigh Christian Academy. She competed as a Level Nine gymnast until three years ago when she decided to focus fully on soccer. She has played in the Elite Club National League from 2014 to now.

“Kylie is a gifted athlete who plays with real bite and composure,” Miller said. “She will bring a lot of tools that our team doesn’t currently possess.”

The Panthers will begin regular season play in the fall.

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