Preview: Panther softball, tennis prepare for spring through exhibition


Softball players cheer on their teammate at a Sept. 23 game against Saint Francis University. (Photo by Issi Glatts / Staff Photographer)

The Panther softball and tennis teams have been preparing for the spring season through fall exhibition play, both while working through major hang-ups from last season. Winning only seven combined games in the ACC, the two teams are looking for big turnarounds this year.

After bursting out of the gates at 9-0, the Panther softball team finished with an underwhelming 24-23 record, missing out on the NCAA Tournament. The tennis team fared much worse, not earning a single ACC win en route to a 3-16 season.

Coming into last year, the Panther softball team looked to build off their 31-21 record in 2015 and contend for the NCAA Tournament.

Despite losing five seniors, three of whom impressively hit over .300 on the season, the team returned four above-average batters, including the team leader in homeruns and runs batted in, now-senior Giorgiana Zeremenko.

Instead of taking a step forward last season, the Panther softball team had a down year. Among many of the team’s issues, they had trouble getting wins in ACC competition. Entering ACC play at 13-5 last season, the team only finished 7-17 against the ACC.

The combination of a young roster and a drop in numbers down the lineup held the team back and didn’t allow for a consistently good season last year.

But this season’s team is returning almost the entire lineup, including star seniors Erin Hershman and Zeremenko.

The two will look to return to hitting over .300 as they did during their sophomore campaigns, and look to get big offensive contributions from players like juniors Olivia Gray and Alexis Solak, who both hit over .280 last season.

The Panther softball team opened their fall schedule at home Sunday, Sept. 17, in a doubleheader against Slippery Rock. They knocked out The Rock in both games, 4-2 and 5-1.

They followed up with another doubleheader against Saint Francis University Sept. 23., losing in a sweep. In game one, Pitt put up a fight, but ultimately lost 10-4. In the second game, the Red Flash shut out the Panthers 5-0, taking both games.

Panther softball will be in action next week when they face West Virginia Wesleyan at home on Oct. 1.

Sophomore Jovana Knezevic and her doubles partner, Gabriela Rezende (not pictured), pulled a 6-3 victory over Auburn this weekend in Miami. (Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

As the Panther tennis team also played as a part of their fall season this weekend, they have a lot of work ahead of them to be in contention in the ACC.  

Last season, the team collapsed after a 3-4 start, losing 12 straight ACC matches from that point on to end the season at 3-16.

Even though the Panthers had three seniors on the eight-person roster, the team still relied on four underclassmen in competition. Often the seniors were outplayed by the toughest players on each team, while the younger players earned experience against lower-tier players to round out the Panthers’ starting lineups.

While players grabbed match wins here and there, the team often could not put together enough victories to gain a majority and win matches, especially in ACC play where they finished winless at 0-14.

This season, the team will look to use the experience of their five upperclassmen to improve upon their record. Senior Callie Frey and juniors Clara Lucas and Gabriela Rezende snagged big match wins last season, but the team will need them to consistently perform to make strides forward.

In their first action of the season, the team headed down to Miami, Florida, to take part in the Miami Fall Invite Sept. 22.

On the doubles side, the Panthers found very little success, finishing the day at 1-5. The pairing of sophomore Jovana Knezevic and Rezende were the only bright spot for the Panthers, pulling out a 6-3 victory over Auburn.

Rebounding nicely, the Panthers had a strong showing against Florida Gulf Coast in the singles portion of competition, posting a record of 6-1.

Leaving this weekend, the Panthers will look to improve in all areas on the court through the fall. While the teams performed well in singles, they did not have to go up against ACC competition. And when matched up against stronger opponents in doubles play, the Panthers struggled.

The team will travel to Evanston, Illinois, next weekend as they continue their preseason in the Wildcat Invite.

As both the softball and tennis teams work through their fall schedules, they each need to make a variety of improvements to find more success in ACC play this season.