Women’s soccer’s global expansion expedites transition to 2019


Bader Abdulmajeed | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior defender Cheyanne Hudson (10) is one of only five returning pitt womens’ soccer players this season.

By Dominic Campbell, Staff Writer

With the current season already underway, the Pitt women’s soccer team is looking to improve upon last season’s results and keep the program trending upwards under decorated second-year head coach, Randy Waldrum.

Waldrum came to Pitt as one of the best coaches in women’s collegiate soccer history, with two national championships at Notre Dame and a career win total nearing 400 under her belt. Waldrum reached the 400 victory milestone in the opener last season against Ohio and posted a winning record during the non-conference schedule, but things took a turn for the worse once the ACC conference play came.

The Panthers lost all 10 games, scoring a goal in only one. In that game, they squandered a two goal lead to Miami and lost 3-2.

After last season’s disastrous finish, the program is clearly in the middle of a massive rebuild which began after former head coach Greg Miller led the team to a record of 32-69-8 in six years before his termination in 2017.

Only a handful of players remain from the team that Waldrum inherited a year ago, including redshirt sophomore Vildan Kardesler, junior defender Aideen O’Donoghue, redshirt junior goalkeeper Amaia Pena, senior redshirt defender Cheyenne Hudson and redshirt senior midfielder Juliana Vazquez.

Those five also happen to have the most experience out of anyone on this young Pitt squad. Of the more than 30 players on this year’s team, 17 are first-year players. Add in two redshirt freshmen and five sophomores — that makes 24 underclassmen players on the team.

A team as young as Pitt isn’t ideal for a program trying to compete for championships, but it is for Pitt, who desperately needs new energy and players that fit with Waldrum’s style as head coach, and early results show that he’s done just that.

The 2019 season is already two games in and there are already some names beginning to separate themselves — most notably, first-year forward Amanda West.

In her Pitt debut against Loyola Marymount last Friday, the Canadian player was sensational, recording a hat trick and an assist, as well as securing the game-winning goal in a 5-4 thriller. West continued to shine just days later on the road against Bucknell. She scored another game winner in the second period of overtime to lift the Panthers to a 2-0 start to the season.

West’s classmate, first-year defender Athalie Palomo, should also find herself on the field often. Palomo came into Pitt with international experience, playing for the Mexican national team at the U-20 World Cup in France in 2018. She also played under assistant coach and son of Randy, Ben Waldrum, at the U.S. Developmental Academy (U-19) in 2017-2018.

In her Pitt debut, she scored the first goal of the season off a free kick — showcasing her versatility on both sides of the ball.
This year’s recruiting class also features two first-year Icelandic players in forward Margret Arnadottir and midfielder Stefania Tryggvadottir. Arnadottir, like Palomo, played at the U-20 World Cup for Iceland and Tryggvadottir has played with the Icelandic U-19 national team.

But they aren’t the only Panthers with international competition experience. English junior midfielder Hollie Olding, who transferred to Pitt from Kentucky this offseason, played in the youth academies for teams like Brighton Hove Albion and Chelsea F.C. She also played for the English National team at the U-17 and U-19 levels.

For the Panthers to succeed this season, they will need the strike-partnership of West and sophomore forward Anna Rico to flourish. Rico was the team’s top goal scorer from last season with three goals, and while she hasn’t scored this season, two of her three assists have led to the two West game winners.

They will also need their veterans to step up and take control of the game. Expect Vazquez and Pena to start most games this season, with Robinson coming in to substitute for Pena occasionally, as she did last year. Hudson should also continue to see time in defense after starting almost every game over the last two seasons. Kardesler will need to prove her impressive first-year campaign won’t be derailed after sitting out last season due to injury.

This season will be another one of rebuilding for a Pitt program that isn’t anywhere near the ones that are in the ACC. The ACC boasts five teams ranked in the top 25 nationally, including four in the top 10. Six more received votes for the top 25 as well. This leaves Pitt, Syracuse and Miami at the bottom of the conference.

The concentration of power teams in the ACC will once again make the conference schedule brutal for Waldrum and his team. The next goal for the Panthers is to win games in conference and make it into the ACC tournament, a feat they haven’t accomplished since their move from the Big East in 2014. It’s a big ask for this young team to achieve such a goal, but with an all-time great coach like Waldrum at the helm, the Panthers shouldn’t be counted out.