Pitt women’s soccer makes strides in 2020, but falters in final stretch

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Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt women’s soccer concluded its season on Nov. 1 with a 9-5-0 record (3-5-0 ACC).

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s soccer concluded its season on Nov. 1 with a 9-5-0 record (3-5-0 ACC). The Panthers accomplished their most successful season under head coach Randy Waldrum, improving on a 4-12-1 record in 2018 and a 5-10-3 record in 2019

The Panthers stormed right out of the gate to begin 2020 with dominant back-to-back wins against Appalachian State, where they outscored the Mountaineers 11-1. They came back home and defeated ACC rival Syracuse 2-0 that same week. In just three games, the Panthers had already accomplished two things they hadn’t in 2018 — a conference win and a win on the road. 

Pitt continued its hot start with an overtime win on the road against Navy, bringing them to 4-0-0. This tied the best start for any Panthers team since the 2009 season, when they still played in the Big East. They grabbed two more wins in a sweep of the Citadel. At this point in the season, the Panthers earned the No. 14 ranking in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches poll.

Pitt’s early-season success hit a wall when the team traveled to Virginia to play two ACC matches. The Panthers played a tough, defensive, scoreless game against then 10th-ranked Virginia, but the Cavaliers picked up the game-winning goal in overtime. Unranked Virginia Tech shocked the Panthers three days later, shutting Pitt out 2-0.

The Panthers returned home to face Boston College, playing an offensive game, opposite to how they played against Virginia. The Panthers scored the game-winning goal late in regulation to give them the 4-3 win. They scored the same number of goals in their rematch with Navy, winning 4-1

Pitt then got another taste of ranked ACC soccer when it played host to No. 2 Florida State. The unranked Panthers became the first team to score on the Seminoles all season, but they could muster only one goal to Florida State’s four. They bounced back against winless Miami on senior day, finishing strong in front of a home crowd. The Panthers had nine total wins, the most of any season since 2015.

Those would be the final wins they’d achieve. A road match against third-ranked Clemson resulted in a 2-1 loss. Despite the defeat, they still had a chance to clinch a spot in the ACC Tournament with a win over Wake Forest and some help from other teams that day. It didn’t matter how the rest of the league performed that day, as a 1-0 loss ended the team’s fall season.

While the Panthers improved in many aspects in 2020, they still struggle in one key area — their conference schedule. In a unique, COVID-shortened season, they only played eight ACC opponents, finishing with an unimpressive 3-5 conference record that prevented them from going to the tournament. Those three wins came against Syracuse, Boston College and Miami, the only teams below Pitt in the conference standings. The Panthers haven’t won more than three conference games since 2015, when they won four, and will need to get over that hump to take the program to the next level.

Pitt cancelled a match with Syracuse in late October, making room for additional matches in spring. The Panthers have room to schedule two spring matches, after the ACC lowered the maximum number of total regular season matches from 20 to 16. 

Pitt has struggled with conference opponents since the school’s move to the ACC in 2013. The Panthers have never qualified for the conference tournament in that time, and have never posted a winning conference record. But close results against the likes of Virginia and Clemson did show the Panthers have started to play up to their competition. 

Sophomore forward Amanda West, sophomore forward Leah Pais and junior forward Anna Rico performed at the top of their games this season for Pitt. West set several single-season records as a full-time starter, including single-season goals (13), points (30) and career points (59). Pais and Rico, while not full-time starters, still played significant minutes and added four goals and 10 points each.

As a team, the Panthers scored 30 goals from 96 shots on target, while allowing 17 goals from 65 shots on target. The squad posted five shutout wins, and scored four or more goals in four wins this year. Pitt’s defensive output is up to par with its offensive output, and with several new signings and transfers coming in 2021, the Panthers look primed to continue their strong showings on both sides of the ball.

The current roster has a chance to prove its mettle after the ACC Tournament finishes, however. Since the NCAA moved all fall championships to the spring, Pitt will have the chance to compete for an at-large spot in the 48-team Women’s College Cup. Schools can play matches from early February to mid-April to prepare for the Cup.

This year showed several signs of improvement, resulting in the best season for Pitt in the last five years. If Waldrum’s squad can continue to put pressure on offense and defense, and if the team can turn some of those close conference losses into wins, Pitt can and will contend amongst the ACC’s elite for years to come.

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