Panthers face injuries, depth issues entering season


It was nearly eight months ago when the Pitt women’s basketball team played its last game, a 72-58 loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the ACC tournament. Much has changed within the team since the final buzzer that day, and now the Panthers are preparing for a challenging yet exciting season under second-year head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio.

In her first year as head coach, McConnell-Serio led the Panthers to an 11-20 overall record last season while picking up three conference wins in the team’s inaugural season in the ACC. The three conference wins last season were three more than the Panthers’ final season in the Big East, when they finished 0-16 in conference play.

This year, the team will follow the leadership of senior point guard Brianna Kiesel and the strength of a recruiting class — ranked 18th by espnW’s HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings — featuring Aysia Bugg, Stasha Carey and Yacine Diop to compete in the ACC.

“Obviously, our expectations are higher than everyone else’s,” McConnell-Serio said. “We were picked to finish last [in the conference], there is only one way you can go when you’re talking about expectations.”

“We’re ready,” said senior center Cora McManus.

McManus, one of the few returning players on the team, will provide leadership both on and off the court for the incoming freshmen who will have to contribute to the team more than they might have thought.

“We’re really trying to get through to them that age is just a number,” she said. “If you put the work in and you come to practice and work hard, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are. You can really compete at this level as long as you put the work in.”

Kiesel can attest to the payoffs of working hard. She enjoyed the finest season of her career under McConnell-Serio last year, finishing 14th in the ACC in scoring and 11th in assists.

“I’m comfortable and confident with what we have here. I think we can make some good runs,” Kiesel said. “We do have short numbers, but we are very tight. We are a family. I think we look good.”

While excitement and optimism surrounds the team and its players, the road ahead will not be all smooth travels, as inexperience and depth will be the biggest obstacles in the way of the Panthers increasing on their win total from last season.

The team returns only three upperclassmen, and one, Brittany Gordon, is sidelined because of an injury to begin the year. Joining Gordon courtside will be Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson, a redshirt sophomore who lost her season to injury before it even started. As a result of the injuries, the Panthers will be suiting up only nine healthy players to start the season, five of whom have no game experience.

But McConnell-Serio said that experience will improve the newcomers during the season.

“Game experience is going to be key,” McConnell-Serio said. “The three freshmen are going to be thrown into the fire early.”

Trying to simulate game experience has been a focal point of recent practices in preparation for the season, as McConnell-Serio pointed to keeping the young women out of foul trouble as another important part of the upcoming year.

“We’ve brought in officials to try and give them an idea of how the game is going to be called,” she said. “Keeping them on the floor is going to be a big thing.”

However, the team points to some positives of a smaller roster.

“We’ve grown closer, and we have more chemistry together,” McManus said.

Challenges will test the chemistry this season, but, for now, good vibes surround the team.

“There is a renewed enthusiasm for the returning players because there is so much energy and excitement in this team right now,” McConnell-Serio said.

The Panthers will get to unleash that energy when they take on IUP in an exhibition game on Nov. 8.

“Just know that we’re going to be ready this year,” McManus said. “Pitt women’s basketball, coming in, coming strong.”