Preview | Pitt prepares for battle with the Hoosiers in NCAA semifinal


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Graduate midfielder Ideal Shefqeti (15) bounces the ball off of his head during the Pitt men’s soccer game against Akron in September.

By Brian Sherry, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt men’s soccer has defied all expectations in this season’s NCAA tournament. The Panthers have won four straight games, securing a spot in the College Cup semifinal. Now the program is just one game away from the NCAA championship game. 

But the Panthers will need to overcome No. 13 Indiana before they can vie for the title. Pitt will face off against the Hoosiers on Friday at 8:30 p.m. in Cary, North Carolina. Here’s what to look out for in the matchup.

A Familiar Foe

The Panthers and Hoosiers have met in Cary before, as the programs clashed in the semifinals just two seasons ago. Indiana ultimately prevailed, beating the Panthers 1-0 in a nailbiter.

Many of Pitt’s veteran players were on the field during the loss. Look for the Panthers to play with energy, as the team will want to avoid the mistakes of 2020. 

Hoosier History

Indiana isn’t just a basketball school. The Hoosiers boast one of the most storied soccer programs in NCAA history. The program won eight NCAA championships, which is the most of any team in the country since 1973. Indiana is also well acquainted with the College Cup, as the Hoosiers have appeared in 20 editions of the championship series. 

This game is a battle between a storied program against one on the rise. Pitt is an up-and-coming program, as it has yet to win a title. But the Hoosiers simply outmatch the Panthers in prestige. Look for Indiana to hunt for their ninth title in program history. 

Players to watch

Redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink is Indiana’s go-to offensive weapon. The veteran forward dominated for the Hoosiers in 2022, ranking 14th in the NCAA in total points with 27. Wittenbrink also leads the Hoosiers in goals and assists, with nine and nine, respectively. The Hoosiers will need Wittenbrink to score on Friday if they want to advance to the championship. 

The Hoosiers are top-heavy offensively, as Wittenbrink accounts for most of Indiana’s scoring. But the Hoosiers have key supporting pieces surrounding Wittenbrink. Sophomore forward Tommy Mihalic and senior forward Herbert Endeley will both look to step up on Friday. 

Mihalic is Indiana’s second leading goal-scorer, with six goals this season. But Endeley is in the midst of a down year. The senior forward came into the season as the No. 49 player in the nation, according to Top Drawer Soccer. Endeley hasn’t lived up to the hype, but still put up three goals and five assists for the Hoosiers. 

But Indiana’s best player isn’t dominant on offense. Redshirt senior defenseman Daniel Munie is a highly decorated player for the Hoosiers. Munie was the Big Ten defensive player of the year last season. He also came into 2022 as the third best player in the nation, according to Top Drawer Soccer.The redshirt senior has the talent to cause serious problems for the Panthers. 

But the Panthers have star players of their own. Senior midfielder Valentin Noel and junior midfielder Filip Mirkovic are on fire in the NCAA tournament. The pair earned All-South regional honors for the Panthers in their tournament run. 

Noel is especially dominant. The French midfielder leads the Panthers in goal scoring and points, with 11 and 25, respectively. Noel also scored the Panthers’ game-winning goal against Portland to clinch a spot in the College Cup. 

The Panthers also have an excellent goalkeeper in senior Joe van der Sar. The Dutch goalkeeper posted two clean sheets in the tournament thus far. Look for van der Sar to continue stymieing opponents’ scoring chances. 

Prediction: Panthers advance to the NCAA final with a 1-0 win over the Hoosiers. 

This game means a lot for Pitt’s seniors. The loss against Indiana two years ago will weigh heavily in the minds of the Panthers before gametime. But the Panthers won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Pitt is a much different team than it was two years ago. Noel and Mirkovic both played in that game and have matured since. This team has also seen many low points since the 2020 season. The team went on a five-game winless streak just two months ago. But the trials and tribulations made them a better team. 

But the Panthers won’t earn the win easily. The Hoosiers will fight hard, especially on defense. Pitt needs to keep the ball out of the Hoosiers’ hands if they want the win. If Pitt can play with the same poise that got them here, then a spot in the title game is within reach. 

Pitt will face off against Indiana on Friday, Dec. 13, in Cary, North Carolina. The match is set to begin at 8:30 p.m. and coverage will air on ESPNU.