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Lacking offense, urgency until too late, Panthers get shutout

By Jasper Wilson / Sports Editor

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The whistle blew, and Pitt kicked off, spreading the ball around its half of the field with accuracy and purpose.

Unfortunately for the Pitt women’s soccer team, that brief opening sequence of Friday’s night’s game against Virginia Commonwealth University, its final non-conference opponent of the regular season,  would, roughly, be the only time over the first three quarters of the contest when the Panthers were in control.  They would lose 1-0.

Afterwards, head coach Greg Miller was left wondering why it took so long.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to waste 65 minutes of a game,” Miller said.

Senior captain Jackie Poucel agreed but had an idea why they did.

“The difference? Work. We are constantly struggling with finding people that want to do it and that want to win,” Poucel said of her team’s change in play between halves.

What followed that first Pitt possession was a short period of both teams giving the ball back and forth to eachother with neither able to capitalize, but quickly the Rams (2-3-2) settled and began to attack space with the ball and find the open areas off of it.

They would outshoot the hosts 11-2 in the first half, and while only 2 of those 11 were on goal the continuous attempts set the tempo and tone for the game.

Pitt couldn’t respond. It was only a matter of time before the visitors found the goal as happened in the 22nd minute, when Abby Ritter swung in a corner with her left foot and unmarked teammate Sharon Wojcik beat her marker and got free to meet the ball with her head, redirecting it into the far side netting.  It was the first on target attempt of the match for either team.

“That was a real dagger against us because we’re already playing bad and [now] we’re down a goal, and we have to fight our way out of it,” Miller said.

They could not.

The second half saw a little improvement from the Panthers (4-4), but they still lacked the necessary urgency and purpose going forward to make up the deficit.

Then, roughly at the midpoint of the period, something happened, and the offense came in a deluge. All of the team’s three corners came in the remaining time as did four of its shots.

In the final five minutes of regulation, freshman Hanna Hannesdottir dragged a shot just beyond the left post from between the six-yard box and the penalty spot. Another close chance late on came when, classmate Taylor Pryce found herself one on one with the keeper but couldn’t quite control a bouncing ball off the turf, her attempt going wide.

To Pryce, a forward, the sudden increase in energy came from the desire to not end the symbolic midpoint of the season on such a low note.

“We looked at the clock and were like ‘oh, dang it, we’re losing 1-0. Do we really want to go into ACC play with this 1-0 loss?” Pryce said.

She would finish with four of her team’s seven shots on target and had its only two in the first half.  

“We should be coming into games with that intensity from the first half of the first half and be playing with that throughout the whole entire game,” she said.  

While the team’s extreme youth, five upperclassmen, only three seniors on roster, will continue to be a storyline for the team, Poucel says how the young players take, or don’t,  to the college game in this next stretch of schedule will decide the course of the season from this point forward.  

“It’s hard to learn right away. You’re thrown into a completely different environment, and some people thrive, some people don’t,” she said. “Right now we’re at a breaking point, and they’re either gonna grow or fall off, and that’s what’s gonna make or break our team.”

Miller knows his players will need to start quicker if they are going to have any sort of success the rest of 2014, in what is the toughest conference in the country for women’s college soccer.

“Going into ACC play, I think it’s get gonna worse if don’t show up in the first part, and try to fight it out,” he said.

Pitt hosts Duke on the 19th at 7 p.m.

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Lacking offense, urgency until too late, Panthers get shutout