The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

Season Preview | Pitt women’s basketball begins a new era under Tory Verdi

Head+Coach+Tory+Verdi+talks+with+players+during+Monday+night%E2%80%99s+exhibition+game+against+Point+Park+in+the+Petersen+Events+Center.
Bronco York | Staff Photographer
Head Coach Tory Verdi talks with players during Monday night’s exhibition game against Point Park in the Petersen Events Center.

After a 10-20 (3-15 ACC) record in 2022-23, the program’s fourth bottom-two ACC finish in the last five seasons, now-Athletic Director Heather Lyke relieved head coach Lance White of his duties. In his place, Pitt hired head coach Tory Verdi

With a revamped roster, the first-year head coach looks to breathe new life into the struggling program. The team only returns four players from the 2022-23 season. Meanwhile, Verdi brought on eight newcomers — five transfers and four first-years. 

Verdi’s blank slate presents an opportunity for a much-needed reset of Pitt women’s basketball. This season marks the beginning of a new era for the program, as Verdi and company hope to build a foundation that can support the team for years to come.

In his previous positions, Verdi instilled the grit, toughness and winning mentality that the city of Pittsburgh demands. From 2012 to 2016, Verdi led the Eastern Michigan Eagles to new heights. In his first year at Eastern Michigan, they went 8-22. By his third and fourth seasons, Verdi elevated them to 24-13 and 22-12 en route to three straight NWIT tournament appearances. 

Verdi found similar success in his most recent position as head coach at UMass. He led them to their first postseason appearance since 1998, earning a place in the NCAA tournament once and NWIT twice in his seven years at UMass.

Last season, the Minutewomen played particularly impressively. They led the A-10 conference in points per game, assists per game and finished second in rebounds per game. At Pitt, the Panthers hope Verdi’s offensive system can find the same elite efficiency.

After proving himself in the MAC and A-10, only one question remains — can Verdi’s success continue in a Power 5 conference?

To accomplish this, Verdi needs contributions from the returning Panthers on the squad. Most prominently captains, senior forward Liatu King and sophomore guard Marley Washenitz. King gives Verdi a proven Division 1 player, having started for the Panthers the past two seasons. Last season, King averaged 9.4 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. Expect King’s leadership to shine, as she’s often vocal and relentless on the court, fighting for every loose ball.

Washenitz, on the other hand, had an immediate impact as a first-year, starting 16 games. Outside of her duties as a floor general, Washenitz made her presence felt on the defensive end, recording 25 steals in limited playing time.

Joining Washenitz and King, sophomore guard Aislin Malcolm and senior forward Gabby Hutcherson returned. When on the court, Malcolm showed flashes as a sharpshooter, leading the team by shooting 41.2% from three. In an expanded role, Malcolm’s abilities could prove essential, forcing teams to adapt their defensive spacing to her three-point threat. Hutcherson provides experience and crucial depth to the squad, as she averaged 17.1 minutes per game and five points per game last season. 

Verdi also utilized the transfer portal to overhaul Pitt’s roster. Expect Indian River State College transfer junior forward Rapuluchi Ayodelen’s defense to make an immediate impact. Last season, Ayodelen led her squad with 53 steals and 23 blocks. In a career game, she dropped 22 points and 20 rebounds over Hillsborough CC. 

Junior guard Bella Perkins joins Pitt from the west coast. At USC, the guard shot an effective 42.9% from the floor and 40% from three. Perkins’s two seasons rotating between the bench in the starting lineup provides versatility and necessary experience to the young backcourt.

Verdi brought in a veteran presence with the likes of graduate student forward Jala Jordan. Pitt marks Jordan’s fourth school, as she made stops at WVU, Auburn and then Seton Hall. Additionally, senior forward Ioanna Chatzileonti joins Pitt women’s basketball. Chatzeleonti, a native of Athens, Greece, and a 2021 Big 12 All-Freshman team member, brings support on the glass. She averaged 5.9 rebounds per game on the Kansas Jayhawks. 

Despite each player’s different journey to this season in Pittsburgh, Verdi remains confident the team will find chemistry.

“I told them, we all come from different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now,” Verdi said. “It is exciting. The one thing that I do know is that they have one main ingredient. They’re all competitive, and they want to win.”

Verdi’s dedication to winning will make all the difference. Although the results might not show immediately, fans should remain patient as building a culture takes time. 

“We’re gonna show up and we’re trying to win each and every single day,” Verdi said. “You’re going to feel the preparation. They’re going to feel the investment from myself and my staff and then they’re gonna feel what it feels like to practice at a high level each and every single day. Practices are going to be really hard and they’re going to understand that early.”

This commitment to detail should give Pitt faithful reason for optimism. Although postseason appearances should not be expected. However, fans should still expect the 2023-24 Pitt team to keep contests closer and upset a few more teams than their predecessors. 

As they preview success to come over the next season, Panther nation has more reason now than ever to support Pitt women’s basketball. 

The Panthers begin their season on Tuesday, Nov. 7 against Yale at the Petersen Events Center. 

About the Contributor
Alex Porter, Staff Writer