Two Pitt athletes play for the Steel City that raised them

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Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Dixon Veltri moved back to her hometown of Pittsburgh and joined Pitt’s women’s soccer team after transferring from University of North Carolina Wilmington.

By Griffin Floyd, Staff Writer

Homecoming presents an opportunity for most people to return to their high school or college and see old friends at a variety of formal and sporting events.

But for redshirt sophomore Curtis Aiken Jr., it means something different. Aiken graduated from North Allegheny High School in Wexford and continued a family tradition upon committing to Pitt’s men’s basketball team to play guard.

“Both my parents went here, and I started to fall in love with Pitt during the recruiting process,” Aiken said.

Aiken’s father, Curtis Aiken Sr., played for the Panthers from 1983-87 and ranks 27th on the team’s all-time scoring leaderboard. The elder Aiken has stayed close with his alma mater, and calls his son’s games for KDKA. That family tie gave Aiken Jr. a lifelong connection to the University.

“I grew up a Pitt fan,” Aiken Jr. said. “When I was little we had season tickets and I went to all the games. Pitt has always had a place in my heart.”

Despite that fandom, Aiken Jr. didn’t always plan on going to Pitt. He originally thought he might have a future in Knoxville.

“My first offer was from Tennessee my sophomore year,” Aiken Jr. said. “But I grew distant from them as I got older.”

The prospect of playing for his hometown alone wasn’t enough to sell Aiken Jr. on Pitt. But when he received a chance to play for vaunted coach Mike Krzyzewski’s top assistant in Oakland, he couldn’t resist the opportunity. Aiken Jr. and Pitt head coach Jeff Capel both started their Pitt careers in 2018.

“The coaching change was the big reason I came here — Coach Capel is a really down-to-earth guy and he knows the game very well,” Aiken Jr. said.

Like Aiken Jr., women’s soccer senior midfielder Dixon Veltri hails from the Pittsburgh area and grew up a fan of the Panthers. But unlike Aiken Jr., Veltri didn’t stay in her hometown when she started college in 2017.

“I wasn’t looking at Pitt,” Veltri said. “The women’s soccer team wasn’t well established at that time, and I wanted to go elsewhere for school, just to get out of Pittsburgh and explore.”

That wanderlust led her to the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she started seven games as a first-year athlete. It didn’t last long, though. Veltri chose to transfer back to her hometown in 2018 as Pitt’s chances at competing improved. Hiring coach Randy Waldrum, the two-time coach of the year and national championship winner at Notre Dame, did the trick.

“Pitt hired coach Randy, and I knew that the program would turn around,” Veltri said. “I wanted to be closer to home. Playing in the ACC has always been my dream, so it was perfect.”

Both teams have undergone a renaissance with talented coaches at the helm, and while the basketball team’s season hasn’t started, Veltri is already reaping the rewards.

Veltri said last year’s game against Boston College stood out as one of her favorite moments at Pitt. The Panthers hadn’t won a conference game in more than three years prior to that victory, and now have four ACC wins since, a step in the right direction for the long-maligned program.

As the team’s culture has changed, Veltri said she has seen herself take on a bigger role within it.

“We’re a very young team. I’m the only senior,” Veltri said. “I’m leading by example and showing [the younger players] what it takes to win, and it’s definitely important to be a role model for everyone.”

The basketball team has reached an upward path as well in what will soon be its third year under Capel, who has recruited top talent across the roster — talent the Panthers will need in the loaded ACC. Aiken Jr. said home games at the Petersen Events Center have special meaning to him, knowing he’s playing in the place that raised him.

“It’s a little different for me than for my teammates,” Aiken Jr. said. “I know a lot of the fans, some of them might have seen me play in high school, so it’s a different feeling for me.”

For Aiken Jr., the love the people of Pittsburgh have for their sports teams is a huge part of what the City means to him.

“During Steelers games, and sporting events in general in Pittsburgh, everyone goes crazy,” Aiken Jr. said. “Growing up in that environment, people from Pittsburgh love sports, and it’s probably my favorite thing about the City.”

Veltri, on the other hand, said she sees playing for her City in a different light. She said she wants to grow the game of soccer not just for the City, but for all the young fans who support the Panthers in the stands.

“For the little girls around here, we’re now role models for them,” Veltri said. “Growing up, I always looked up to UNC because they were the best in the country, but now I think in Pittsburgh little girls can look up to us and think, ‘I want to be like them one day.’”

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