Women’s soccer prepares for crucial Louisville contest


By Kevin Wheeler / Staff Writer

Having just completed a three-game stretch against top-15 teams without recording a win, the Pitt women’s soccer team is looking to use its losing streak as an impetus to play without fear.

The Panthers will test their new mindset tonight as the Louisville Cardinals (6-7-2, 2-3-2) travel to Pittsburgh to face off against the Panthers (6-9-0, 2-5-0) at Ambrose Urbanic Field at 7 p.m.

Head coach Greg Miller has seen the steady progression of his young team all year long, while using games as teaching experiences to better his program.

Pitt’s recent losses against nationally ranked opponents — No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 9 North Carolina and No. 2 Florida State — are no different for Miller, as he has already begun to use the Panthers’ play to form his latest teaching lesson in playing against greater opponents.

“We always talk about respecting our opponents but not respecting them too much,” Miller said. “You pay respect to the fact that there’s a lot of tradition [in these programs] and they have good players, but if you give [the opponent] too much respect then your team tends to fall back and not try to push back as much.”

The Panthers are reeling just a bit, as any team would be after three consecutive defeats, and they’ve bruised the swagger that they were forming after their first two ACC wins.

“We reached a certain level of confidence in the middle of our ACC schedule, but we’ve lost it a bit in the past couple of games,” sophomore co-captain Siobhan McDonough said. “I would like to see that team back [against Louisville].”

McDonough’s fellow captain, senior defenseman Jackie Poucel, seems to be hungrier than ever for a victory in her final three games before her career at Pitt comes to a close. Of the last three games, Louisville is the best opportunity.

“Thursday is so big for us. We need that win,” Poucel said. “It means probably more than any game has for us so far. It’s what can really elevate us in the conference.”

The final few games of this ACC schedule are the Panthers’ best chance to make a name for themselves heading into next year, when 25 of the 28 current Panthers will be returning. Just because Poucel is on her way out doesn’t mean her leadership stops. 

“I want to see us fight a little harder and be more aggressive and fearless,” Poucel said. “I don’t want anyone holding back. I want there to be sliding, tackling and confidence to go at defenses and shoot. I just want us to give everything we have and have no regrets when we leave the field.”

But that will only be half of the battle against Louisville Thursday evening.

Pitt’s offense this season ranks as one of the worst in the ACC, mainly because of their inability to consistently create scoring chances. The Panthers rank last in the ACC in corner kicks (48) and second to last in shots (150).

“[The coaching staff] does try and press upon [the players] that we need to get in better position so that we can give ourselves a chance to get shots and get corners,” Miller said. “But really it derives from the fact that we haven’t been able to keep the ball very much. If we keep the ball better and we’re advancing out of our own end, then we give ourselves opportunities to push to get corners, crosses and things on goal.”

Miller cited Louisville as “well-organized and hard-working,” which is a credit to its head coach, Karen Ferguson-Dayes, who has implemented a “grind it out” mentality in her Cardinal program. This is why playing aggressively will be so crucial to the Panthers’ success on Thursday. If they cannot match the Cardinals’ intensity, the chances of the result of the contest being a Pitt win will dwindle.

The Cardinals have strong midfield play, using their athleticism to run at their opponent and gain strength in numbers around the ball. In addition to playing with aggression, Pitt will have to do its best to match the numbers of Louisville near the ball and move across the field quickly effectively.

Both teams are in need of a win, as Louisville enters this match after a close loss to No. 3 Virginia 2-1. A physical game is a guarantee for this one.

The end of this season is Miller’s last chance to gauge where his program will be heading into next season.

“I just want to see that we continue to grind like we have something to play for,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter where we sit or whether we have postseason opportunities or not, we want to continue to grind. It’s certainly about finishing the season strong, but it’s about who we’re going to be in the future, too.”