‘I see Pitt thriving’: Lacrosse seniors, grad students set bar for future teams


Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

Senior midfielder Peyton Reed (16) faces off a player from Akron during a Pitt women’s lacrosse game in March.

By Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

When Payton Reed left her hometown of Honeoye Falls, New York, and enrolled in 2018 as a first-year student at Pitt, the prospect of playing Division I lacrosse couldn’t have been further from her mind.

A three-time state finalist in high school, Reed elected to focus on academics rather than pursuing collegiate lacrosse. But while majoring in biological science and business with chemistry and economics minors, Reed couldn’t fight her urge to continue competing and won a national championship with Pitt’s club lacrosse team in 2019.

Just three years later, Reed, now a midfielder on the varsity team, is a part of Pitt lacrosse’s first-ever senior class and helped guide the team through its inaugural season at the Division I level. One of last year’s original 14 players and one of just three seniors brought up to play for the new program, Reed said her class’s biggest priority was giving the program an identity — something that other programs have spent years building.

“The little things that all of the other schools have already established, we have to create those,” Reed said. “You can talk about it as much as you want, but it’s honestly about putting in the work and showing people that you’re really dedicated.”

For Reed and the rest of the senior class, the precedent they are trying to set stretches far beyond their results from this season — they are paving the way for future Pitt lacrosse teams. According to head coach Emily Boissonneault they’ve established a belief among younger players that, despite being a first-year program, they are on the road to winning.

“I hope they recognize the impact that they’ve had on the culture and history of this program,” Boissonneault said. “As a starting program, they saw the ability that we had, especially the girls coming from other ACC programs. They identified the strength of our program and I think they helped us believe in ourselves.”

Of the 14 seniors and graduate students on the team, 11 transferred to Pitt from other programs. Five of them came from other ACC schools, including Virginia, Virginia Tech and Syracuse. According to Boissonneault, it takes a “special person” to make the blind leap from an established program to a first-year team, and that her core of experienced transfers has excelled at self-regulating the team’s progress.

“I think it takes a lot of guts and courage to be an established player and come to a starting program, because we do expect more from them,” Boissonneault said. “There really seems to be a strong sense of accountability amongst each of them, and I think that’s really incredible … they helped us see how we can all be accountable for a loss or for a win.”

Graduate student forward Madisyn Kittell made the most drastic move of any incoming transfer at Pitt, coming from the University of Florida for her final season. When Kittell first committed to play at Florida, the program was only eight years old, but has become a national force ever since — they’re often ranked and make the NCAA tournament.

Kittell said even when she first began at Florida, the school still honored the initial few years of the program, showing how far they’ve come since 2010. She said seeing the progression at her former school and having experience playing lacrosse at the Division I level gives her confidence that Pitt’s team will soon compete with the ACC’s best.

“I think having that experience in the back of my head knowing that we, as a first-year program, especially the transfers, have an impact,” Kittell said. “Our impact and legacy will be around here forever, and it’s just really cool to be able to say that we started this program, especially in the ACC because it’s such a high-end conference.”

Looking back on the season and what they’ll take most from it, Reed and Kittell both recalled their game against Duke as one of the high points of the season. They said despite losing by just one goal, the performance gave them a sense of belonging among the ACC powerhouses. Boissonneault added that the team was able to use the game as a measuring stick of their progress.

“I know it was a loss, but that was a game that I think our team really bought into what we’re doing,” Boissonneault said. “We’ve had some really great wins this year, and I’m really proud of that, but I think we learned so much about ourselves in that Duke game and I think it really powered a lot of us forward and helped us recognize our capabilities.”

When it came to the memories that the players made on the field, Kittell referenced their game against her hometown team Syracuse as a personal highlight, along with their first victory at Highmark Stadium against cross-town rival Duquesne.

For Reed, her fondest memories come from time spent with her teammates off the field. Activities like easter egg hunts, movie nights and even not-so-friendly dodgeball games will be the moments that stick with her after the season concludes.

“There was a recent dodgeball game in which everyone got super into it and that was absolutely so much fun,” Reed said. “Stuff like that kind of takes your mind off of the stress and the hard work that you put into lacrosse and then lets you build those relationships with your teammates that gives you memories you’ll hold onto forever.”

Both players have thought at length about their post-graduation plans, with Reed looking at graduate school and Kittell toward using her degree in sports management. After playing college lacrosse for the past five years, Kittell knows that she wants to stay with the sport going forward, possibly pursuing coaching or being a part of a professional organization.

Regardless of where their careers take them, both players are grateful for their paths to playing lacrosse at Pitt. With confident optimism, both see the nascent program taking off within the next few years, building off the foundation set by the inaugural group of seniors and graduate students.

“I see Pitt thriving [in five years] to be honest,” Kittell said. “I think this whole team from the freshmen to the grad students always play with a chip on their shoulder, and I think that coming from Pittsburgh with the blue-collar mentality and the work ethic really enforces that.”