2015 marks monumental year for Pitt athletics

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

Change comes in waves, particularly in college athletics. The University of Pittsburgh is not immune to those shifting tides.

One year ago, Pitt’s athletic program boasted a third-year head football coach for the first time since 2010 and a men’s basketball team coming off of an appearance in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

But times have changed. Paul Chryst bolted from the football program to return home to Wisconsin. Men’s basketball sputtered through one of its worst seasons under head coach Jamie Dixon. Perhaps the starkest of transitions was the removal of athletic director Steve Pederson in December and the insertion of his replacement, Scott Barnes, who officially began his tenure on June 15.

Barnes’ new regime will have many questions to answer, and quickly. The biggest of these is the one surrounding the football program, as the team has been the epitome of collegiate instability over the past five years. With the hiring of new head football coach Pat Narduzzi, the Panthers hope they have finally found a stabilizing force on the gridiron.

It’s a crucial year on the hardwood, as well. Pitt’s first two seasons in the ACC have seen plenty of promising moments, but Dixon’s Panthers sputtered toward the end of last season and have yet to thrive the way his teams did in the Big East. With a cast of newcomers entering the fray, highlighted by prized recruit Damon Wilson, this upcoming season will be a tangible indicator of what direction the men’s basketball program is headed in its new conference.

It’s not all do-or-die for Pitt athletics. Perhaps the brightest-shining program on campus is the women’s basketball team, led by newly re-upped head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio. The team shocked fans by earning their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009, and upsetting Chattanooga in the first round before competing valiantly in a loss to the highly-seeded Tennessee Lady Vols.

This season the team will be without superstar guard Brianna Kiesel, who graduated and was drafted by the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. Now, the Panthers’ young nucleus of sophomores Stasha Carey, Yacine Diop and Aysia Bugg will attempt to continue the surprising success of last season.

Plenty of other Pitt sports feature intrigue as well. Can softball repeat its surprising run to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Holly Aprile? Can Pitt wrestling overcome another difficult schedule to continue its extended run of excellence? Will either the men’s or women’s soccer team finally find their footing on the football pitch in the ACC? Can Pitt’s baseball program find some consistency despite losing three pitchers to the MLB draft and slugger Boo Vazquez to graduation?

All of these questions are early signs that 2015-2016 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in Pitt athletics, one that will be a strong indicator of the department’s standing compared to the ACC elite.

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