Panther Spotlight: Fall athletes to watch

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Panther Spotlight: Fall athletes to watch

Layne Van Buskirk (7) recorded the third highest hitting percentage in program history last season.

Layne Van Buskirk (7) recorded the third highest hitting percentage in program history last season.

Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Layne Van Buskirk (7) recorded the third highest hitting percentage in program history last season.

Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Layne Van Buskirk (7) recorded the third highest hitting percentage in program history last season.

By Stephen Thompson, Assistant Sports Editor

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Amanda West: Women’s Soccer

First-year forward Amanda West has made the most of her brief career so far.

The rookie striker has tallied four goals in her first two matches.

In the season opener on Friday, she etched her name into Pitt history by becoming the first woman to ever score a hat trick in her first match as a Panther. Her final of the trio was an 82nd minute, go-ahead strike into the left corner — which secured a 5-4 victory over Loyola Marymount.

That’s not to mention her assist, which helped bump up West to seven points on the game — the most by a Panther in a single game since 2001. Then, two days later in second overtime against Bucknell, she once again put home the game-winning goal.

Pitt has scored six goals this season. Four have been scored by West. Two of them have made the difference in winning the game. In short, Amanda West’s heroics through Pitt’s first two matches are unprecedented — and a strong omen of what’s to come.

Layne Van Buskirk: Volleyball

In her three years at Pitt, senior Layne Van Buskirk has known one thing — winning. Panthers volleyball has posted a dominant 81-18 record since she first arrived on campus in 2016 and they won their first outright ACC volleyball championship in program history just last year.

The 6-foot-3 Van Buskirk was essential in anchoring the middle of the Panther defense — averaging 1.42 blocks per set, good for 15th in the nation. She currently sits eighth in the all-time Pitt record books for blocks and has the fifth highest single game block total in program history as well.

She made her presence felt on offense as well. Using her long arms to play well above the net routinely, Van Buskirk recorded the third highest hitting percentage in program history last season, placing her in the top 10 nationally in that category. 

As she enters her final season, the individual accolades for Van Buskirk are impressive, but there is one more way she can cement herself in program lore — by winning in the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament for each of the past three years. They even hosted the opening rounds last season at the Petersen Events Center, but have yet to make it out of the second round.

Van Buskirk should have all the help she needs, with a roster that returns almost a full starting lineup — but look out for the power player to separate herself nationally in her closing season.

AJ Davis: Football

There is a strong legacy of accomplished running backs in the annals of Pitt football history. Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, James Conner and most recently Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall are some of the first names that come to mind. But the problem with having so much talent in one backfield is that sometimes players can get buried.

No one knows that better than junior running back AJ Davis. Davis, a former Under Armour High School All-American from Lakeland, Florida, has waited his turn behind Conner, Ollison and Hall for two years now, but he is poised to be a featured part of the Panther’s 2019 campaign.

While first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple is expected to give last year’s stagnant passing offense a jolt of energy, don’t expect him to shy away from the running game. Pitt still figures to be a run-happy offense, despite the departure of Ollison and Hall, who both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Pitt’s first depth chart of the regular season, released on Monday, lists both Davis and redshirt sophomore Todd Sibley as starters. Both Sibley and Davis were highly touted recruits coming out of high school, but seeing as Davis holds the slight edge in terms of career carries, expect Davis to carry the load early on.

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