Women’s basketball: After back-to-back Sweet 16, Panthers gearing up for season opener

By Kelly Flanigan

For the second consecutive year, the Pitt women’s basketball team was picked by Big East… For the second consecutive year, the Pitt women’s basketball team was picked by Big East coaches to finish fifth overall in the conference.

This year, the team will have to replace two four-year starters in Shavonte Zellous and Xenia Stewart.

Zellous now plays for Detroit Shock and made history as the first Pitt women’s basketball player to be drafted into the WNBA. In her first season as a professional, she came off the bench and made significant contributions.

But despite these losses, head coach Agnus Berenato remains very confident about the upcoming season.

“We have very, very high goals,” she said. “Our schedule is fabulous, and that’s expected anytime that you’re in the Big East.”

When asked about the one team in the Big East that Pitt would most like to beat, the obvious answer was the Connecticut Huskies — a long-time basketball powerhouse — whom the Panthers host at home this season.

Berenato’s goals are not just short-sighted, though. In her seventh year as head coach of this team, Berenato looks to build a foundation for a program that will endure success in years to come.

“We said that we were going to turn this program around,” Berenato said. “The one thing that we were consistent with was that we didn’t want to have a good team. We wanted to have a great program. And I think we’re working on that right now.”

As the only senior on the squad this season, Sophronia Sallard knows that her leadership will be key to the team’s success, but she is quick to give credit to her teammates.

“I have a lot of teammates that are there to back me up,” Sallard said. “They know that I’m the only senior, but we have a veteran squad. We have Shayla [Scott], who is a very good student of the game — she knows what it is that she needs to do. We have Jania Sims, as well.”

Sims, a junior point guard, will return this season after taking a medical redshirt because of tibial stress fractures in both legs.

Sophomore Shawnice “Pepper” Williams will also return to the team this year as center. She was the Big East athlete selected to play for the USA U19 team, but an injury held her back.

Scott will change positions this season from forward to guard and is excited about the switch.

“Moving from forward to guard I think is a challenge but something that I’m really looking forward to,” Scott said.

The women’s basketball team made appearances in back-to-back rounds of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Berenato hopes to top this accomplishment in the upcoming season.

“We have a great tradition with academics, a great tradition with football, a great tradition with men’s basketball, a great tradition with all our Olympic sports, but I think that we have really tried to develop a fabulous [women’s basketball] program,” she said.

The women’s basketball team will host Seton Hill in an exhibition game Nov. 10 to kick off its season. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.