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Pitt sports: A semester in review

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Pitt sports: A semester in review

Kenny Pickett and Qadree Ollison celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

Kenny Pickett and Qadree Ollison celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual EditorThomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Kenny Pickett and Qadree Ollison celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual EditorThomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual EditorThomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Kenny Pickett and Qadree Ollison celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.

By Kate Hall, Staff Writer

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It’s been quite the semester for Pitt Athletics. From playoff berths to championship games to championship titles, the Panthers have seen it all. Here is a recap of the biggest moments in Pitt sports this semester.

Football

The Panthers’ 2018 season was highlighted by a first-place finish in the ACC Coastal Division and Pitt’s first appearance in the ACC championship game in program history. While Pitt fell short of the championship win, the team still finished 7-6 and earned a spot in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

At the beginning of the season, the ACC Championship that head coach Pat Narduzzi promised seemed like nothing but a fantasy. The Panthers went 2-3 in their first five games of the season, including an ugly 51-6 loss at home against rival Penn State and a 45-14 blowout loss to Central Florida on the road.

But the highlight of the season came in Week 6 when Pitt took on Syracuse at home. It was very fitting that Pitt played arguably its best game on homecoming weekend. The Panthers needed to win if they wanted any shot at the ACC Championship game and a bowl game, both seemingly out of reach before Oct. 6.

Pitt’s offense lit up Heinz Field with 402 total yards — 137 yards passing and 265 rushing. With eight seconds left in the game, redshirt sophomore Alex Kessman tied the Orange with a 45-yard field goal, making the score before overtime 37-37.

The electric Pitt offense took the field for overtime and rallied past Syracuse with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Darrin Hall, winning the game 44-37.

This overtime spectacular gave fans hope for the season again. Pitt went 4-2 for the rest of the regular season, making the Panthers bowl eligible and allowing them to make history as the first team in program history to play in the ACC Championship game.

Although football has been on a hiatus for the past week, the Panthers will take the field one last time this year. On New Year’s Eve, Pitt will face Stanford in the Sun Bowl to close out the season.

Women’s Volleyball

A historic season for women’s volleyball makes it tough to pick just one memorable event for this season. After finishing with the most wins since 1980, Pitt’s biggest triumph this season was not when it won its second straight ACC championship, but when it hosted a playoff round for the NCAA Tournament.

After finishing the regular season with a 29-1 record, Pitt earned the No. 12 seed in the NCAA championship rankings. Not only were the Panthers seeded, but for the first time in program history, they were granted home court advantage for the first two rounds of the tournament.

Pitt took on unseeded Iona College in the first round on Nov. 30. The Panthers came away with the 3-0 win to move on to the second round, where they faced Michigan.

For the third consecutive year, the Panthers’ season came to an end in the second round of the tournament. This time it was the Wolverines who ended Pitt’s season in the five-set 3-2 victory.

While the season didn’t finish how the team would have liked it to, it was Pitt’s first time ever winning more than one set in the second round of the tournament. And junior hitter Nika Markovic earned her 1,000th kill — giving the team plenty of hope for the future.

Wrestling

Early into their season, wrestling was able to slide into No. 24 in the NWCA Coaches Poll. Its ranking has a lot to do with its biggest win of the season — the Panthers’ upset of No. 14 Northern Iowa 21-19 on Nov. 17.

The biggest win of the meet came from junior heavyweight Demetrius Thomas. In the last match of the day, Thomas beat Iowa heavyweight Carter Isley, giving Pitt the points it needed to come away with its first upset since January 2018 against then-No. 18 Oklahoma.

Pitt also has a nationally recognized wrestler now. Redshirt freshman Micky Phillippi is ranked No. 6 in the nation and was named ACC Co-Wrestler of the week after his runner-up finish in the 133 weight class at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite.

The Panthers are currently 2-0 on the season after finishing seventh place in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite on Nov. 30.

Men’s Basketball

This semester was an exciting one for men’s basketball. The team started its season with a 6-0 start, a big improvement from last season’s 2-4 start.

While there were a lot of big wins, the top moment for Pitt actually came in its first loss. The Panthers’ first loss of the season was a 69-68 nail-biter against No. 14 Iowa in late November. While it was a loss, the game was important because it showed first-year head coach Jeff Capel  was helping his players, as well as the overall program, improve.

Not many were surprised Iowa won the game — the buzz was more about the way a young Pitt team played. The game proved to everyone the Panthers meant business this season, coming away from their toughest game of the season only one shot away from an upset.

The game against the Hawkeyes showed the passion behind the Panthers for the upcoming semester and the rest of the season.

Men’s Soccer

The Panthers earned their first-ever ACC tournament victory against No. 6 Virginia in late October. After a slow first half, the Panthers scored two unanswered goals to come away with the 2-0 win, knocking Virginia out of the tournament.

Since joining the ACC in 2013, Pitt has made three tournament appearances, not earning a win until this season. It was also Pitt’s first conference tournament win in 13 years, the last one coming in 1995 against Rutgers, when Pitt was still in the Big East.

Pitt then fell to No. 8 Duke in the quarterfinals. This highly defensive game was forced into three overtimes before heading into penalty kicks as a last resort. Sudden death is no easy way to close out an elimination playoff game and the Blue Devils were ultimately able to prevail over the Panthers.

What’s important to note here is that Pitt was able to win its first-ever ACC tournament game. And, more recently, two players were given All-Region Honors — sophomore Edward Kizza was named to the second team while senior Javi Perez was named to the third team.

Cross Country

At the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional this season, junior Sam Shields placed 10th and clinched a spot at the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championships.

Shields became the third woman ever to compete in the tournament for Pitt. She follows in the footsteps of Pitt alum Gillian Schriever, who competed in 2016, and All-American Maureen McCandless, who competed in 2002 and 2004.

Shields was the only runner of both the men’s and women’s side to represent Pitt in the Championships. She ended up placing 122th, the third best finish on the team.

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Pitt sports: A semester in review