Pitt women’s lacrosse makes last preparations for first game


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt lacrosse players huddle up during a playday against the Duquesne Dukes at Highmark Stadium on Sept. 26.

By Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

With a determined grin, Pitt women’s lacrosse head coach Emily Boissonneault walked toward the turf at Highmark Stadium not with a stick, but a shovel. Hailing from Canada, having to clear a snow-covered lacrosse field has become a norm for her.

Athletic director Heather Lyke laughed knowingly at the sight, reminiscing on her days at Michigan.

“This is normal for lacrosse this time of year,” Lyke said. “It’s a little like softball at Michigan, you have to be tough to play.”

The coaches and a few players shoveling hardly managed to make a dent in their efforts to clear the field prior to their Monday morning practice. Regardless, the snow wouldn’t be an obstacle in the team’s preparations for Friday’s matchup against Duquesne — the first official regular season game in program history.

[Read: ‘Didn’t hesitate’: Boissonneault embraces challenge of building Pitt lacrosse program]

The players and coaches huddled near the sideline just after 8 a.m., taking in praises and encouragement from Lyke, who recognized that the moment had been years in the making.

“I just wanted to say thanks in believing what we are building,” Lyke said. “Confidence is internal, so you’ve got to believe you can make a difference. They came here to make a difference in this sport and put it on the map.”

Lyke had one last surprise for the players before they began practice, as she guided them into their very own locker room at Highmark stadium. The room is situated right across the hall from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ locker room and features new jerseys, TVs and blue-and-gold embellishments galore.

The new facility blew senior midfielder Payton Reed away. She said having two state-of-the-art locker rooms shows just how much Pitt athletics supports them.

“I don’t think it’s anything we were expecting,” Reed said. “We got one amazing locker room, and this was just the icing on the cake, it’s awesome in there. It’s cool to see what people do for us, how much people believe in us, and we’re excited to show them what we got.”

Despite the players’ excitement for the locker room, they only lingered for a few moments before running back out the double doors and back onto the turf to start practice.

[Read: Lacrosse opens fall slate with playday vs. Duquesne]

Energy was high among the players and coaches, despite the cold temperatures. Boissonneault said it’s been a challenging journey getting to this point, but after 2 1/2 years of waiting, they’re just ready to play and find out what level they can compete at.

“Every week it’s a little bit different,” Boissonneault said. “At first it was like, this is our history, this is everything … I’m just excited to play a game and make adjustments, where are we?”

While starting a program from the ground up has been a monumental task for Boissonneault, her players and the entire athletic department, it’s not a feat that’s foreign to her. As a collegiate athlete at Detroit Mercy, she had a chance to do the same thing as a player.

In a similar situation for the second time, Boissonneault said the biggest challenges are educating lacrosse players across the country about the reputation of Pitt, as well as finding leaders in a team of 38 new players.

“A lot of the young women that we recruited had never obviously considered the academic level of Pittsburgh or knew anything about it,” Boissonneault said. “The other thing is finding leadership and being able to bring it together … you’re working to create an environment where everyone can be themselves and sometimes that brings challenges.”

Another challenge looming for the Panthers is the reality of competing in the potent ACC. The conference ranked five teams in the top 13 in the country last year, including both National Championship finalists, Boston College and Syracuse.

Despite the daunting schedule ahead of them, both players and coaches seem confident that they can compete right out of the gate. Reed said it may be an up-and-down season, but the team will push to make a statement in the inaugural season.

“I think we’re going to put up a lot of good games,” Reed said. “I think we’re going to put up some wins, and I think inevitably, we’re going to have some losses too, but I know that this team is going to fight to the end for every game and I think we’re going to be really competitive this year.”

Graduate student attacker Madisyn Kittell said the team has progressed substantially in the few months they’ve been together as an entire unit. She also acknowledged that the road to get to where they are now has not always been a smooth one.

“I think there’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Kittell said. “Coming from the ground up, there’s going to be bumps and bruises and injuries and sicknesses, especially with COVID. But I think our team has a lot of resources to fight through the adversity and a lot of courage to keep going.”

Friday’s game will prove to be an emotional one, according to Boissonneault. As much as she is trying to treat it as just another game, she may have to fight back tears as her team takes the field for the first time.

“Hopefully you won’t see me tear up too much,” Boissonneault said. “I’m pretty emotionally committed and connected to this program. You know, it’s been 2 1/2 years of my life at this point, just getting here … I’m just excited to have the opportunity to compete.”

The Panthers’ inaugural game against Duquesne is set to take place Friday at 5 p.m. at Highmark Stadium. It can be streamed on ACCNX.