Preview | Softball looks to avoid another abysmal ACC finish in 2023


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Senior outfielder EC Taylor shields her eyes against the sunset during Pitt’s softball matchup against Penn State on March 16, 2022.

By Ben Pisano, Staff Writer

Going into the 2023 season, there’s no reason to believe fans won’t see more of the same from Pitt softball. Luckily for the Panthers, when the status quo is mediocrity, any glimmer of excellence is an opportunity to turn this largely irrelevant team into contenders within the conference.

The program seemed primed to turn things around during former head coach Holly Aprile’s last couple of years at the helm. In 2015, the team made it all the way to the final round of the ACC tournament where they fell 6-2 to Florida State. The Panthers met the Seminoles again in the 2018 ACC Championship, where they lost in devastating fashion due to a seventh-inning three-run homer. 

Since then, the Panthers have yet to match the success of their 2018 season. It remains the last season the team finished over .500 and the only season since the team’s transfer into the ACC that they recorded a winning record in conference play.

Head coach Jodi Hermanek has yet to put together a winning season since her hiring following the 2018 season. The Panthers finished the 2022 season ranked last in the ACC, going 14-27 overall and 2-20 within the conference. To make things worse, the Panthers hosted the 2022 ACC Championship at their home turf of Vartabedian Field, where they could do nothing but watch solemnly while their conference rivals competed against each other.

While the team has yet to put it together as a group, some standout players will return to the field for the 2023 season. Graduate student in-fielder Yvonne Whaley remains the team’s most potent offensive threat. In 2022, Whaley led the team in batting average, hits, runs and stolen bases. Her efforts earned her a spot on the All-ACC Third Team.

Likewise, fans should expect junior outfielder Cami Compson to give the Panthers some much-needed help on offense. Compson performed admirably in her first two seasons at Pitt, with her first season garnering her the distinctions of All-ACC Third Team and All-ACC Freshman Team. In 2022, Compson led the team in home runs and slugging percentage.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Dani Drogemuller seems poised to grow into her starting role on the defensive side of the ball. In her first full season with the Panthers, Drogemuller threw 144 strikeouts in 28 appearances on the mound — ultimately finishing with a 3.57 ERA. Drogemuller performed exceptionally well on day two of the Wings ETC Classic, where she threw a career-high 12 strikeouts against the USC Upstate Spartans. 

In the off-season, Pitt signed sophomore pitcher Adriana Romano — a welcome addition to the Panthers’ bullpen. Prior to her transfer to Pitt, Romano played her first season with the Siena College Saints, where she started 15 games and recorded a team-leading 2.45 ERA. Junior pitcher Julia Grobman also signed during the off-season, marking her first appearance on an NCAA field since her first season at Yale was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When playing at their most efficient, the Panthers can contend with any other team in the ACC, as evidenced by last season’s upset win over Florida State, marking the highest-ranked win in the history of the program. The problem is that the Panthers seldom play at their most efficient.

No doubt, the Panthers have talent on both sides of the ball. Whether Hermanek and the rest of the coaching staff help them live up to their potential as a complete unit remains a question heading into the season. But given that they finished last in their conference last year, Pitt softball has nowhere to go but up.

The Panthers start their season in Clearwater, Florida on Feb. 10 at 11 a.m. where they will face the Indiana Hoosiers in the NFCA Leadoff Classic. Later in the day, the Panthers will go up against the Prairie View A&M Black Panthers. From there, the team will remain on the road until finally returning to Pennsylvania for a game at Penn State on March 21. 

The Panthers need to improve their standing in the ACC this season. Luckily, they will have ample opportunity to prove themselves against conference foes early in the season. Pitt’s home opener at Vartabedian Field on March 24 pits them against the Virginia Cavaliers, who finished No. 6 in the ACC in 2022. Then, starting in mid-April, Pittsburgh will host a gauntlet of conference rivals at home — including Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina State.