Column | Top 5 best Pitt sports moments in 2021


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett displays the ACC Championship trophy.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt athletics could not have had a better 2021. The Panthers enjoyed several successes in the calendar year, placing 10th overall and 4th in the ACC in the Learfield Directors Cup fall standings. Several Pitt teams have also cemented themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the ACC. Here are the five best Pitt sports moments in 2021.

  1. Baseball sweeps Miami

Pitt baseball’s sweep against Florida State, either of their victories against Georgia Tech or junior pitcher Matt Gilbertson’s remarkable 134-pitch gem against NC State in the ACC Tournament were all worthy moments. But one series defined the Panthers’ season — their sweep over No. 15 Miami on April 9-11.

Pitt senior outfielder Ron Washington Jr. (23) at an April 2021 baseball game vs. Miami. (Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer)

In the sixth inning of the first game, then-sophomore Sky Duff grinded out an eight-pitch at-bat before crushing a grand slam to put the Panthers ahead for good — they won 12-6. They then showcased their defense in the second game, as they got out of two bases-loaded jams in the 8th and 9th innings to win 6-4. Then-junior infielder Bryce Hulett hit another grand slam in the final game of the series to win 12-5.

The Miami sweep emphasized the newfound “Gritsburgh” mentality, which became a popular phrase in the dugout and on social media. Pitt didn’t go to the NCAA tournament that year, but its season-long grind-it-out attitude gave the team one of the best moments of 2021.

  1. Lacrosse secures their home field

Most of the behind-the-scenes work involved with getting Pitt lacrosse onto the field for its inaugural season took place in 2021, which included securing a home field for the foreseeable future.

Pitt women’s lacrosse team prepares to play Duquesne at Highmark Stadium in September. (Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer)

Pitt announced Sept. 13 that they signed a multi-year deal with Highmark Stadium which allowed the lacrosse team to play its home games there. It was the biggest step toward playing real games until the team announced its fall schedule two days later. During that fall schedule, the venue had drawn positive comments from even the opposing teams, including Duquesne head coach Corinne Desrosiers during a Sept. 26 playday.

“I’ve never actually been here before, it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s definitely an awesome facility, and we were fortunate to play here today.”

Pitt made sure to play its inaugural season in an established professional venue, and while it didn’t win any trophies or make any tournaments with this announcement, it did take a huge step in the establishment of its program.

  1. Men’s soccer goes to the College Cup

Coming in at number three is men’s soccer’s playoff run in the 2020 season. In a normal world, this moment wouldn’t have made the list. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fall sports including soccer held their championships in spring 2021.

Pitt Panthers Guilherme Feitosa (7), Alexander Dexter (13) and Jackson Walti (24) celebrate a goal against UMass in October. (Patrick Cavanagh | Senior Staff Photographer)

Led by then-sophomores Valentin Noel and Veljko Petkovic, along with head coach Jay Vidovich, the Panthers dominated the 2020 season, as men’s soccer became the third sport in Pitt history to ever rank No. 1 in the nation. This dominance continued into the NCAA tournament, as they defeated Monmouth, UCF and Washington on 13 goals, which helped them earn a spot in their first College Cup in program history.

Pitt’s run to the Cup ended with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Indiana in Cary, North Carolina. Hoosier sophomore forward Herbert Endeley scored the game’s lone goal in the 79th minute, sending the Panthers home with no chance at a national title. But this program first — Pitt soccer’s only run to the national semifinals ever — is worth celebrating.

  1. Volleyball goes to the Final Four

Speaking of program firsts, Pitt volleyball clinched its first-ever Final Four berth a couple weeks before the new year. But unlike the men’s soccer team, head coach Dan Fisher and company clinched the berth on their home court, giving this moment the edge in these rankings.

Pitt volleyball players celebrate after defeating Purdue and earning a spot in the Final Four of the NCAA women’s volleyball championships. (Image courtesy of Alex Mowrey/Pitt Athletics)

The Panthers hosted the Pittsburgh region in the national tournament as the No. 3 team in the nation and swept UMBC in the first round at the Petersen Events Center. They then defeated rival Penn State in four sets. They moved to the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse for their third-round win against Kansas, before meeting Purdue in the regional finals.

The season prior, Pitt held a two-set lead against Washington in the regional finals, but the Huskies won three straight sets to eliminate the Panthers in gut-wrenching fashion. This year, senior outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh had 21 kills in the match against Purdue, punching their ticket to Columbus with a 3-1 set win.

The Panthers lost in the national semis against Nebraska 3-1, but the most successful season in Pitt volleyball history deserves its recognition. It almost cracked the top spot on this list, if it weren’t for another fall sport taking place around the same time.

  1. Football wins the ACC

What else was it going to be?

Fifth-year senior quarterback and Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett rewrote the Pitt football record book in his final season with the team, throwing for more yards, TDs and completions than anyone else in Pitt history. Along with the Biletnikoff Award-winning sophomore receiver Jordan Addison, the high-powered Pitt offense stormed into Bank of America Stadium and defeated Wake Forest, 45-21.

Pickett also changed the NCAA rulebook when he faked a QB slide in the first quarter and scored a touchdown. The NCAA quickly banned the fake slide six days later. But even without the slide, the Pitt defense silenced the previously unstoppable Wake redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman after the first quarter, not allowing a single point in the last 45 minutes.

Pitt fans in Oakland took to the streets after the win and celebrated the school’s first outright conference championship, which gives it the No. 1 spot on this list.