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Take 5: Best of Pitt Athletics

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Take 5: Best of Pitt Athletics

Kenny Pickett (8) and Qadree Ollison (30) celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Kenny Pickett (8) and Qadree Ollison (30) celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Kenny Pickett (8) and Qadree Ollison (30) celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Kenny Pickett (8) and Qadree Ollison (30) celebrate after a successful play during the team’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

By Staff

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Pitt Athletics had some highs and lows this year, but in every situation there was a player or team that stood out above the rest. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall helped turn Pitt’s football season around and lead the Panthers to a historic season. The volleyball and soccer teams both made history this year, as volleyball only lost one regular season game and soccer advanced to the semifinals of the ACC tournament, led by sophomore Edward Kizza. Last but not least, there’s athletic director Heather Lyke, whose decision to fire former basketball head coach Kevin Stallings and hire Jeff Capel, current men’s basketball head coach, has reenergized the program.

Qadree, the man

Qadree Ollison has easily been Pitt’s best athlete this season across all sports. He, along with fellow senior running back Darrin Hall, made for an electrifying run game for the Panthers. Ollison was an integral part of the Panthers’ victory in the ACC Coastal Division and appearance in the ACC Championship for the first time in school history.

Ollison produced a plethora of unforgettable moments this season, making it hard to just choose one. The one play that stands out is his 97-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech, featuring an unforgettable stiff arm — the whole play was a moment fans will never forget.

At the beginning of the season, some fans thought Hall would be the main running back for Pitt this year. It turned out a two-headed monster in the backfield was going to be the outcome for the season. When fans’ spirits were down, Ollison was there to pick them up. When fans’ spirits were up, Ollison kept them up. It’s likely that Pitt fans will find themselves comparing the running backs of the future to that of the best Pitt athlete of 2018, Qadree Ollison.

-Tyler Moran

Homecoming heroics

After five games, Pitt football was sitting at 2-3 and looked like it was headed for another subpar year. The team had been demolished by both Penn State and Central Florida, while suffering yet another disappointing loss to a bad UNC team.

The early October homecoming game against a stout Syracuse team changed all that.

Pitt prevailed 44-37 in a back-and-forth contest that needed overtime to decide the winner, leading to the victory that changed the course of Pitt’s season. A third loss in a row would have been devastating. Instead, the Panthers went on to win four of the next five en route to their first Coastal Division crown.

The defense and Darrin Hall really stood out over the course of the rainy matchup. The defense came up with key stops and produced three turnovers. Junior corner Dane Jackson’s fumble return for a score was a thing of beauty and sophomore corner Therran Coleman’s pick in overtime to seal the game was one of the plays of the year. The defense would be key in the stretch that secured the Coastal, as the unit kept Pitt in the game against playoff-bound Notre Dame and shut down Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

After a quiet start to the year, Hall got going against the Orange. He racked up more than 100 yards and two scores that day. Hall would go on to score five more touchdowns, including a monster 200-yard, three-touchdown performance against Virginia. He would also join fellow senior Qadree Ollison in rushing for more than 1,000 yards.

While Pitt’s season ended at an average 7-7 record, it very easily could have been much worse. But the gritty defeat of the Orange helped boost the Panthers to their first division title, making it one of the best Pitt sports moments this year.

-Nick Carlisano

From Barnes’ blunder to Heather’s heroics

For the last two years, the Pitt basketball program had been as abandoned and desolate as the arena in which it played.

With two sellouts, two ACC wins and the full-blooded return of the famed Oakland Zoo atmosphere all within the first few months of Jeff Capel’s first season as head coach, Kevin Stallings’ tenure now serves only as a reminder of how far this program has come in such a short time.

This remarkable turnaround and the progression the team continues to show each game on and off the court only highlight how important Heather Lyke’s decision to fire Stallings was, making that the best Pitt Athletics moment of the year.

Even before Dixon’s resignation to take the job at Texas Christian University, Pitt fans had grown restless over Dixon’s struggles to adapt to the ACC. Instead of making drastic moves after Dixon left, then-athletic director Scott Barnes hired Stallings. This time around, Lyke got Pitt the upgrade it so desperately needed in Capel.

Lyke’s decision showed the athletic department would not stand by while a once-proud program was reduced to an ACC doormat by an overpaid, overmatched coach. Sure, there was plenty of uncertainty during what turned out to be a very extended coaching search, but its conclusion and Capel’s subsequent hiring inspired feelings in Pitt basketball fans that had seemed far off in the two years of Stall-Ball — belief in the leadership of the program at all levels.

-Ben Bobeck

Pitt volleyball produces mad (s)kills

After disastrous 2017 seasons for Pitt’s basketball and football teams, morale for fans of Pitt Athletics was low. Without having a traditional team to get behind, students turned to the volleyball team for their weekly adrenaline rush.

Even with more promising performances from the football (7-7) and men’s basketball team (currently 12-7) this year, fans still showed love to the volleyball team, which kept up its stellar performance this season. For the second year in a row, the team made it all the way to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

With even more students showing up to pack the Fitzgerald Field House this year, volleyball games felt as energizing and electric as the men’s basketball game against No. 2 Duke on Tuesday.

The ladies of Pitt volleyball carried the load of Pitt Athletics going into this school year, making each of their performances special, winning blowouts, even-skilled matchups and hard-fought battles.

As a Pitt sports fan, the volleyball team was the best and most exciting team to watch in 2018. The team’s athleticism, confidence and camaraderie dotted every matchup as if it were the most important one, and that is something that still can’t be said of our basketball and football teams.

-Alexa Marzina

Edward Kizza: Pitt men’s soccer fiery scorer

Sophomore forward Edward Kizza absolutely lit up the ACC with the Pitt men’s soccer team this year. With 15 goals in 18 games for the Panthers this year, Kizza was an instrumental part of the offensive as Pitt battled toward a great run in the ACC Tournament.

Along the way, the Panthers upset major tournament favorites including No. 6 ranked Virginia to record their first ACC Tournament win since joining the conference in 2013. Kizza scored both goals in that memorable 2-0 win. The future is bright for Pitt men’s soccer with Edward Kizza at the forefront, and he is the Pitt athletic star who shined the brightest this year.

Born in Kampala, Uganda, Kizza traveled to Montverde Academy in Florida to pursue his passion of playing soccer. His outstanding play resulted in a chance to play for a top collegiate program in Pitt. He didn’t disappoint in his first year, tallying 11 points in 15 appearances. Kizza came in second in Pitt team point totals and received ACC All-Freshman Team and All-ACC Academic Team honors.

This past season, Kizza really excelled. He tied for fifth in total goals scored in the entire NCAA and topped the ACC in scoring. The Panthers finished in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, with their best result in years and Kizza stands out as the main offensive target for Pitt going forward. He finished the season as No. 45 in TopDrawerSoccer’s list of the Top 100 Men’s College Soccer list and No. 10 in their list of the Top 20 in the ACC.

Kizza was the centerpiece for a Pitt Panther team on the rise in the ACC, giving Pitt fans something truly spectacular to take in through his fantastic goals that repeatedly meant the difference between a win or a loss for Pitt. With a great 2018 behind him, Kizza is bound to continue his amazing play for the men’s soccer team in games to come.

-Ben Zimmer

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Take 5: Best of Pitt Athletics