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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Jenny Allard knows Pitt softball must ‘Dig Deep’ to compete in the ACC

Junior+pitcher+Adriana+Romano+%2816%29+winds+up+for+a+pitch+during+Saturday+afternoon%E2%80%99s+game+against+Florida+State+at+Vartabedian+Field.
Kaylee Uribe | Senior Staff Photographer
Junior pitcher Adriana Romano (16) winds up for a pitch during Saturday afternoon’s game against Florida State at Vartabedian Field.

Pitt softball’s first-year head coach Jenny Allard sought a new challenge at Pitt. After 29 seasons of success at Harvard, the legendary coach contemplated retirement. 

With nine Ivy League championships, 688 career wins and an NFCA Hall of Fame induction,  she accomplished it all. She could complete her third decade as Harvard’s head coach and ride off into the sunset. 

Her plans changed after receiving texts from Pitt athletic director, Heather Lyke — her friend and former softball teammate at Michigan.

“I had been in the Ivy League 29 years, I was looking to retire in two to three from coaching,” Allard said. “Then here comes Heather Lyke texting me about the Pitt opportunity. For me, this opportunity gets you to the pinnacle of college softball in terms of competitiveness. And that’s exactly what drew me to Pittsburgh.”

The challenge of playing in the ACC continued this past weekend, as Pitt softball (8-21, 0-9 ACC) hosted No. 18 Florida State (21-9, 4-2 ACC) for their home-opening series in front of three sellout crowds.

“It was great to be in Pittsburgh this week,” Allard said. “I think the fans were great. They showed a lot of dedication when the game yesterday got delayed an hour while sitting in the cold. We’re just super excited to be home to be playing to start to settle in here.”

Florida State best represents the allure of competing in the ACC. The Seminoles made the NCAA championship two of the last three seasons while winning six ACC conference titles and eight ACC tournament championships this decade. They utilized their experience and elite talent to sweep the Panthers in three games that ended by the mercy rule.

“We talked to the team about Florida State being a perennial ACC champion and top of the conference team,” Allard said. “They are the perfect team to challenge us and push us. They showed us what we need to do and where we need to get to.”

Despite the rough stretch and starting winless in conference play, the Panthers know they need to continue working hard to break through finally.

“They wanted to elevate,” Allard said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They wanted to be pushed. They want to develop. They want to be really successful. They want to have a great strategy. They want to continue their strong culture of support for each other and having coaches that really can push them and develop them.”

Allard learned from over three decades of experience in collegiate softball that tough love becomes necessary for the Panthers to earn their first ACC win. 

“My job isn’t to make their life easier,” Allard said. “My job is to make your life better, elevate you, and get you to realize your true potential. That means holding people accountable. That’s how you know you’re doing your job the right way.”

Allard uses not only her experience as a coach but also as a player to help the Panthers improve. Allard dominated at third base and on the mound during her four seasons at Michigan. Her junior campaign especially impressed, as Allard had a 0.79 era and 64 strikeouts in her first season pitching consistently at the collegiate level. She also averaged .351 and had 29 RBIs, and was named Big Ten Player of the Year.

In the series, the Pitt pitching conceded 15 home runs and 40 runs total, revealing a significant area for improvement.

“We just need to keep the ball in the ballpark right now,” Allard said, “So we really need to work on the spin, change of speed, locating, all of it. The pitchers just really have to dig deep. We’ve faced some tough opponents in our conference schedule right off the bat. We’re learning to dig deep and execute pitches.”

During the series finale, Pitt’s offense showed improvement. After going down 8-2, home runs by senior outfielder Cami Compson and sophomore catcher KK Esparza put the Panthers within reach at 8-6. However, the Panthers’ pitching faltered and conceded nine runs over the next two innings.

“And I think today we had a little bit of a breakthrough,” Allard said. “Because our bats started to fight harder. We started to fight the level we needed to, to be in the game.”

Unfazed by the Panther’s initial struggles, Allard remains confident in the Panthers’ improvement this season.

“We talked about today taking what we did offensively with our bats — scoring in several innings against Florida State and being able to bring that fight and that mentality every time we play,” Allard said. “I think we got to go back to the drawing board with the pitching and make sure the pitching can keep us in games longer. So that’s where we are. But I think just in terms of my experience in just doing this for years and years. I know how to figure out the strategy of how to solve different things we need to, to keep fighting and winning more games.”

About the Contributor
Alex Porter, Staff Writer