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Panthers look past fatigue in trip to Philadelphia

By Kevin Wheeler / Staff Writer

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After playing five games in nine days, the Pitt women’s soccer team is finding that it may not be easy getting things back to normal.

With a loss to Washington on Sunday and a weekend of two road games ahead of them, the team had to get back into a routine of training this week.

The Panthers (3-2) will head to Philadelphia this weekend for two road matchups. Before Pitt takes on La Salle (1-2) on Sunday, it will have to go through Villanova (1-2) on Friday at 4 p.m.  

Head coach Greg Miller headed into this week of practice aware that his players would be exhausted from the marathon of games they had just completed.  

“[Tuesday] was a little sluggish — we’re really still recovering,” Miller said. “Last week, we didn’t get a chance to train at all, so this week is a good week to get back into that rhythm a little bit.”

Miller wasn’t too concerned about a few sub-par practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday’s practice was most important to him, as the Panthers shifted focus more heavily on the two opponents they will face over the weekend.

Although Pitt is playing tiredly right now, the team has been working intensely on finishing its offensive chances in practice.

“We’ve been in front of the goal each day this week,” Miller said. “It’s definitely a priority of ours both from just a repetition standpoint with ball striking as well as a kind of build-up scenario that results in a cross and a finish or just good shots on goal in general.”

Senior defender and team captain Jackie Poucel remains as Miller’s vocal presence on the field. She, too, knows that converting offensive chances has to be a priority for the Panthers as they move forward through this season.

“We’ve been working on our passing, attacking patterns and just high-pressure situations,” Poucel said. “We know we’re going to be playing a lot more teams that are going to be pressuring us more than we’re used to.”

With 23 out of the 28 Panthers being freshmen and sophomores, the youth of this team has certainly been a factor in their recent issues finishing scoring opportunities.

Freshman midfielder Ashley Moreira is one of the many rookies logging high numbers of minutes in the early stages of the season, including 73 minutes on Sunday against Washington.

“I think we have to start knowing each other’s roles and what everyone is good at, so we can be more comfortable and confident on the field,” she said.  

For Moreira, fitting into a role involves playing with a sense of urgency when the opportunity presents itself, including having “more concentration in front of the net.”

“I guess sometimes we lack in that because we’re tired or just unmotivated because of a net we missed, and it’s like, ‘Oh we’ll get the next one,’” Moreira said. “But, I feel like now that we put a little bit of pressure on ourselves, we have to start saying, ‘We’ll get it now.’ So, when we start thinking like that, then we actually do finish our chances, strike the ball the way we should be striking it and not just going through the motions.”

With freshmen like Moreira playing increased minutes, Poucel’s role as captain can be amplified at times. Given that her teammates are less experienced at the D-I level, she stresses remembering “how long they’ve been playing this game for.”

“I remember what it was like to be a freshman starting, which is obviously scary at first,” Poucel said. “Soccer is still soccer, so all I can offer them is encouragement and tell them not to focus on the little mistakes.”

Traveling this weekend will be the first time that many of the freshmen Panthers have gone on an extended road trip as a member of a collegiate soccer program. The work that the team has been doing all week will be on display against Villanova.

All of the talk leading up to the game will be discounted if the Panthers do not show up to play on Friday.

Villanova, a former Big East opponent, now lacks familiarity for Pitt. The Wildcats have adopted a new culture in their program since the hiring of first-year head coach Fran Kulas, which ultimately gives Miller little to work with.

“Any time you’re on the road, it’s an uncomfortable setting,” Miller said. “They have a new coach, and that makes us take a different approach to things. So, I guess it’ll be a surprise for what they throw at us, and we just have to try and be prepared for whatever scenario.”

This may cause the Panthers to play more instinctually, which could bode well for their ability to let their raw talent take over in the heat of the game. Poucel took a confident approach in preparing for the Wildcats, adding that she thinks “they know that we’re a lot better than what they remember.”

“I’ve heard that they haven’t really improved, but I’m not doubting them because you never go into a game underestimating anyone,” she said. “We’re going to expect them to fight, but I think we have a lot more of an advantage on them than they will have on us.”

The goal of playing well in the ACC still remains for the Panthers, and this weekend will give them two solid tests for gauging where they stand in relation to the rest of their conference.

“Any time you face an unfamiliar foe, I think that can always prepare for you an opponent in the ACC,” Miller said. “That’s exactly what we need: not only to be uncomfortable being on the road but playing teams that are going to challenge us athletically and from a soccer standpoint.”

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Panthers look past fatigue in trip to Philadelphia