Wright, Pessima dominate from Northwest to NCAA


Photo courtesy of Michael Shroyer | Getty Images

Senior Shyheim Wright (pictured) and sophomore Eddita Pessima have had some of the best seasons for hurdlers in school history and have been two of the best hurdlers in the ACC.

By Dominic Campbell, Senior Staff Writer

As the NCAA indoor track and field season approaches its final weeks, two Panthers are looking to put an exclamation point on what has already been a historic year. Senior Shyheim Wright and sophomore Eddita Pessima have etched their names into the program record books and established themselves as some of the top hurdlers in the nation.

Wright placed first in the 60-meter hurdles at three straight meets earlier this season, including a 7.67-second finish to win the Penn State National Open on Jan. 31. That gave him the second-best time in school history, just .06 behind the school record set by Mike Wray in 2007. Wright’s time currently ranks third in the ACC and seventh in the NCAA this season.

Joining Wright on the women’s side, Pessima not only placed first at the Penn State National Open, but also set the school record in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.23 seconds, breaking the previous record of 8.32 that was set twice — by Brianna Broyles in 2011 and again by Taranisha Taylor in 2014. Her time is the second best in the ACC this season and 22nd in the NCAA.

Maybe it’s something in the water, because the duo’s path to dominance began in the same place — Germantown, Maryland. Both hail from the Washington, D.C., suburb and went to the same Northwest High School.

Wright started off as a football player before he began hurdling in high school. He originally wanted to be a great football player because his father had played the sport, but he eventually realized his superior passion for hurdling.

“When I got to hurdles … it’s a different feeling when you can get over 10 barriers faster than anybody else and you cross the line,” Wright said. “In football, you could get tackled, get up and next play make something happen, as opposed to track you get that one chance and then you have to wait a whole week. So it just feels more rewarding when you win a race, especially a hurdle race.”

He went on to become a state champion in the 55-meter, 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles as a high school senior and had the third-best time in the country as a junior in the 55-meter hurdles.

Though Wright is in the midst of a breakout season, he also produced in his previous three years at Pitt. He made it to the ACC Indoor Championships in his first three years and outdoor Championships his first two years, with an injury holding him back last year.

Pessima wasn’t a lifelong track star, only joining the team in her first year of high school. But Wright noticed her dedication early on, and she knew she was destined for big things because of her work ethic and coachability.

“To see where she’s at now, I didn’t think she’d be on this level,” Wright said. “Like she’s on a way higher level than I was my sophomore year. I’m proud of her for sure, and it’s just crazy how she started and where she’s at now.”

Pessima blossomed into the top hurdler in Northwest history, winning four state championships and earning school records in every hurdling event.

Wright also played a part in Pessima coming to Pitt. He committed to Pitt after hurdling coach Keith Roberts and head coach Alonzo Webb noticed his performances as a junior, and he managed to put in a word for Pessima to his coaches and encouraged her to come to Pitt as well.

Pessima instantly had a major impact in her first year. She competed in both the ACC Indoor and Outdoor Championships, and her 13.31-second finish in the 100-meter hurdles at NCAA East Regionals was the second-best in school history. Unfortunately, the time was .01 short of what would have qualified her for the NCAA National Outdoor Championships, according to Webb.

Coming into this season, Pessima said she was confident she could further improve and break the school record. With that record secured, she now has to re-up her goals.

“I’ve accomplished all the things I wanted to so far,” Pessima said. “So I’m setting new goals as of right now, which are to score in ACCs and to participate in Nationals. Those are my two new goals.”

The friendship that formed between Wright and Pessima at Northwest has continued at Pitt. The two practice with each other, as Pessima requested to train with the men’s team. Once in a while, she even beats Wright.

“She does starts with me, and sometimes she beats me,” he said.

Wright says that Pessima’s competitive nature has helped him become a better hurdler, while Pessima says that Wright’s mentorship has been extremely beneficial.

“In high school he always helped me with the hurdles, and, coming here, he’s always there,” Pessima said. “He’s always there to help me, to guide me and to pick at me sometimes if I’m not doing certain things during the hurdles. So I really appreciate that and he’s really helped me a lot.”

Webb said that when Wright tore his quad in his senior year of high school, it affected his confidence and ability. But after three years at Pitt, Wright is finally starting to show the massive upside he displayed as a junior in high school.

“He wasn’t the hardest worker, and I think he’ll probably tell you he wasn’t, but now since his senior year has come, and even starting conditioning, I’ve seen a different Shyheim,” Webb said. “And he’s been working hard up to this point and it’s paying big dividends for him.

For Pessima, Webb noted that she has been on top of her game and has been “on fire” ever since she just missed out on nationals last season. He also believes that she has the potential to become a truly great hurdler.

In Pessima, Webb sees the rare potential of someone who can compete on the national stage.

“Eddita is really focused … she’s just been on fire,” Webb said. “She’s been perfecting her craft, her technique and everything and each week, especially after she broke the school record, I think the confidence has really taken over. She really belongs where she is and she can continue to get better.”

Wright and Pessima will compete in the ACC Indoor Championships next week on Feb. 27-29 at Notre Dame.