Women’s soccer climbing to the top

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Hannah Heisler | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt women’s soccer achieved something last season that the program hadn’t seen in three years — a conference win.

By Camryn Simons, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s soccer achieved something last season that the program hadn’t seen in three years — a conference win.

With the October match against Boston College tied 1-1 during overtime, a game-winning shot from forward Amanda West off a cross from defender Cheyenne Hudson proved the difference in a 2-1 win. With the rest of overtime scoreless for either team, the Panthers secured their first conference win since October 2016 against Miami.

Junior goalkeeper Katherine Robinson, like the rest of the team, can still clearly recall the emotional game-winning moment and the lasting impact of the win on the team.

“I still remember the goal that we won off of our first ACC game. I still remember sprinting off the sidelines and jumping on everybody,” Robinson said. “I think everybody was super excited, but also hungry for more, which is really good carrying into this next season.”

Pitt went on to achieve yet another conference win that season, facing off in 2019 against NC State for a final score of 2-1. Finishing with a conference record of 2-6-2, Pitt showed serious improvement from its prior conference records in 2018 and 2017 of 0-10 and 0-9-1, respectively.

The 2019 fall season proved that, despite only joining the conference in 2013 and going through a major phase of rebuilding, the Panthers are on an upward swing and ready to take their play to new heights.

With the taste of conference wins still lingering, junior defender Kate McKay said the Panthers are ready to prove themselves as strong competitors in the upcoming season.

“We want that feeling [of winning] more and more. Especially when you taste it just a little bit,” McKay said. “I think this season will take those couple wins that we got and take that feeling that we want more out of the ties and the losses and be able to translate that into this year.”

The rising success of the rebuilding Panthers can be largely credited to the hiring of head coach Randy Waldrum in December 2017. As one of the country’s most decorated coaches, Waldrum earned winning records at Tulsa, Baylor and Notre Dame. He cemented his legacy at Notre Dame with 15 NCAA tournament appearances and two national championships in 15 seasons.

After going through both a winless and winning conference season with the Panthers, junior forward Anna Rico said she thinks Coach Waldrum’s winning culture is essential to Pitt’s stark improvements.

“He carries around a certain thing where he’s Randy Waldrum, and he produces winning teams,” Rico said. “Picking up Pitt where it was, he’s definitely taking [the program] to an astronomical level.”

Waldrum inherited a team lacking in both experience and strong leadership, with first-year players making up the majority of the roster. His strong recruiting abilities allowed him to bring in a diverse and talented group of first years and transfers that contributed to the program’s improvement in 2019.

Sophomore forward Amanda West exemplifies Waldrum’s strong recruiting abilities. Starting in all 18 games as a first year, West led the team in goals and assists, set a school record in points in a season and took home All-ACC honors. Her dynamic scoring abilities will once again power the Panther attack.

But looking forward to the upcoming season, West hopes to put her first year behind her and focus on team success as much as possible this fall.

“I think you need to have short-term memory. Put what you did last year in the past and forget about it and then start fresh this year,” West said. “I have to … keep working hard and doing everything I can to help our team get the wins. If that means putting the ball in the back of the net or helping someone else put the ball in the back of the net, I’m going to do that as much as I can.”

Many Pitt players such as West are just beginning their college careers. But in 2020, two Panthers hope for a strong season to close out their rollercoaster college careers — senior midfielders Dixon Veltri and Hollie Olding.

Despite the ties and the losses, Olding viewed last season as a step in the right direction. As team captain, she holds high expectations for Pitt.

“For my team, I want to get to the ACC Tournament. I want to finish high in the conference,” Olding said. “I want to go to the NCAA [Tournament] and get as far as we can … I really do believe in my team.”

With hopes of tournament play and successful conference play in mind, the Panthers boast a strong list of returning starters and players — despite losing key players goalkeeper Amaia Pena and Hudson.

Although perhaps underestimated by their opponents in the past, the Panthers look to rewrite the story of the program and break into the top half of the conference. The 2019 season wasn’t perfect by any means, but it proved necessary in order to show what could be.

Now that the Panthers are seasoned in dealing with adversity, Olding said she thinks 2020 will be entirely different, game in and game out.

“We just had a totally new team,” Olding said. “We had never played together before. I think with a young team you just need more experience. When you’re down a few goals, you need experience to get your head back in the game and keep pushing.”

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