Pitt women’s soccer dominates Cleveland State in triumphant return to Pittsburgh

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Pitt women’s soccer handily defeated the Cleveland State Vikings by a score of 5-0 in its home opener on Thursday afternoon.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s soccer handily defeated the Cleveland State Vikings 5-0 in its home opener on Thursday. The Panthers came into the matchup winning two straight on the road in the Cowgirl Invitational, beating both Tulsa and No. 16 Oklahoma State to win the mini-tournament.

The Panthers played on their heels for the first 15 minutes of the match on Thursday evening. Cleveland State held the time-of-possession advantage, and while Pitt had more shots in that time frame, the Panthers’ shots were rushed and steered wide of the posts or over the crossbar. 

The Vikings’ offense put pressure on Pitt’s defense early but couldn’t get their offense going, save for a tenth-minute chance by senior forward Ja’Maya Ward sending a shot wide of the net. The Pitt defense bent, but never broke. Pitt sophomore goalkeeper Caitlyn Lazzarini commented on the importance of the defense and its strong performance against the Vikings.

“I think the defense does a really good job of setting up our offense,” Lazzarini said. “Along with understanding that the defense is a core part of the team when we need to regroup.”

Pitt’s strong defensive effort in the early going proved to be vital, as the offense clicked in the 16th minute and erupted for three goals in the next 11 minutes.

The first goal came when sophomore midfielder Anna Bout found sophomore forward Amanda West, who proceeded to dance around several defenders and softly put it past the Viking keeper. In a very similar manner, first-year midfielder Emily Yaple fought her way through the Cleveland State defense, and just as lightly tucked in Pitt’s second goal three minutes later.

First-year forward Sarah Schupansky subbed in for the Panthers in the 25th minute. Seconds later, she took a free kick from the right side and buried it from over 20 yards out. After the first half-hour, the Panthers completely flipped the script — Cleveland State was now playing on their heels.

Head coach Randy Waldrum addressed the adjustments the team made throughout the match.

“To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the intensity we came out with,” Waldrum said. “But once we got into a rhythm and got our first goal, that opened the game up and pressured the opposition.”

The Panthers finished the first half leading 3-0. 

It didn’t take long for Pitt to extend its lead in the second half. First-year midfielder Ellie Coffield found fellow first-year midfielder Bri Hilsenteger breaking away from the defense. Hilsenteger got the Viking keeper to bite on a fake shot, leaving the net open, and she took advantage, tallying her first collegiate goal to put the Panthers up 4-0 just two minutes into the second half.

Schupansky broke down the importance of having the new faces contribute to the winning effort. 

“A lot of people showed up today, I’m proud of all of them,” Schupansky said. “Most of us came in early in the spring, which helped tremendously.”

The Panthers and Vikings traded a few chances for most of the second half. Great saves from Pitt’s backup keeper, first-year Madison Vukas, and Cleveland State’s senior Miranda Thomas kept the score locked at 4-0. 

That was until Schupansky took a leading pass from junior midfielder Celia Lopez in the 78th minute, and beat a seemingly exhausted Thomas for Pitt’s fifth and final goal. The horn sounded with Pitt picking up their third straight win.

But Waldrum explained the quantity of wins is not as important as the quality of wins.

“Our goal is not to break the wins record,” Waldrum said. “I’m more concerned if we can get quality wins that can get us into the tournament. The winning will take care of itself if the performance is there.”

Pitt is off to a hot start, winning three straight matchups including one against a ranked Oklahoma State side. The offense has scored 11 goals, while the defense has only surrendered two.

The Panthers will look to continue their winning streak against the New Jersey Institute of Technology at Ambrose Urbanic Field next Sunday at 1 p.m.

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