With the start of the school year fast approaching, each of the fall sports teams are beginning to gear up for their 2017 seasons. In August, training camps will start before the Panthers take to the field toward the end of the month.
So over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to take a look at where each team — except football — stands and what they’ll need to do in order to succeed. Up first are the men’s and women’s soccer teams, which are both coming off hugely underwhelming seasons in 2016.
The men’s soccer team continued its recent history last season by finishing with a losing record for the 16th consecutive year. After starting 2-2-1, the squad was consistently outplayed in the ACC, finishing 0-6-2 in conference play.
Despite the poor record, there were some positives second-year Head Coach Jay Vidovich can build upon. Notably, then-redshirt freshman goaltender Mikal Outcalt was spectacular all year and was one of the reasons the Panthers were able to keep many of their losses close.
Outcalt ranked near the top of the conference in several statistical categories, including finishing first in saves with 88 and save percentage — where he finished third at .815.
But while this proves he is a capable goaltender, it also highlights issues with the field players. For example, the saves statistic is impressive for Outcalt, but no team in the conference allowed more shots on goal than Pitt — and it wasn’t even close. Going forward, the defense has to limit its opponents’ opportunities and relieve some of the pressure on Outcalt to start winning.
Offensively, the team was a complete mess, with just .56 goals per game on an average of 6.8 shots. That’s nowhere near where they need to be to compete in the conference, and it showed.
It won’t get any easier this year, as the team lost its two top scorers in midfielders Luca Mellor and Matt Venanzi. Key returners include forward Kevin Angulo, who tallied one goal and two assists last season and looks to be the team’s biggest threat in his senior year.
Top 50 recruit Kizza Edward will join Angulo in the attacking third, which should give the Panthers a viable second scoring option.
Overall, even though the team struggled in Vidovich’s first year at the helm, he has some pieces he can work with. The group needs to work on becoming more offensive-minded and putting pressure on opposing defenses. If it can accomplish that, the program could make a big jump heading into 2018.
Heading into his sixth season as head coach, Greg Miller is looking to turn a corner after the team stumbled to a 2-15-1 record last season.
While the group struggled defensively, the majority of the problems lied on offense. On the year, the team averaged 7.9 shots per game and scored only eight goals throughout the 18-game season.
Junior Sarah Krause will be counted on to produce the most this year. The 5-foot-4 Cleveland native scored one goal last season and led the team in both shots and shots on goal.
But still, the offense was extremely lackluster, and the defense wasn’t much better, giving up 2.28 goals per game. As a whole, the team just couldn’t match up against the tough ACC competition, and it led to several ugly defeats, including a 6-0 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers.
Looking forward to this season, the team doesn’t lose many players, but it will have to replace goaltender Taylor Francis, one of Pitt’s most accomplished goaltenders in recent years. Francis started 60 games in a row during her Pitt career and was tied for second in school history in goals against average prior to last season.
Sophomores Katelyn McEachern and Amaia Pena will be forced to step up and handle the goaltending duties. Neither has played in a single game at Pitt, so the team will be inexperienced in the defensive third no matter who Miller chooses as the starter.
To succeed, the 2017 team will need to have someone other than Krause step up and produce offensively. Krause may be able to do a lot, but having a second scoring threat would go a long way to improving the offense. The defense needs to improve as well, and with an inexperienced netminder, the task will most likely fall on the field players to get it done.
The team kicks off the regular season Aug. 18 against Hofstra at Ambrose Urbanic Field.