Panthers lose Kiesel, gain experience in pivotal third year under McConnell-Serio


By Logan Hitchcock / Staff Writer

At this time last year, the Pitt women’s basketball team was shrouded by a cloud of mystery.

Questions about youth, a short bench and an overwhelming lack of experience swirled around a team hoping to trend upward during Suzie McConnell-Serio’s second year at the helm. Enter present day, and the team is looking to build on a season that ended with a winning record and an NCAA tournament victory.

This year’s squad has a lot going for them — the team is returning three of five starting players with a year of experience under their belt, as well as an impressive five-player recruiting class.

However, the elephant in the room is what the team lost. It’ll attempt to replace the otherworldly production and vocal leadership of point guard Brianna Kiesel, now a member of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock, as well as the offensive and defensive presence of Monica Wignot.

Filling the hole that has been left with Kiesel’s departure will not be an easy task.

“This team is very young, and we are very different,” said McConnell-Serio. “A lot of things will be similar, but a lot of things we did last year were geared toward Bri. This year we’ll rely on multiple people to pick up the scoring we lost.”

One of those people will be sophomore guard, Aysia Bugg, who knows that without Kiesel, things will be different.

“At first I was like, man, I have some big shoes to fill. But after talking to coach, I realized it’s not the same team. It won’t just be me replacing her, but more of a team replacing what she did. Everyone needs to contribute in a big way,” Bugg said.

On the court play won’t be the only thing this year’s team is looking to replace. Without the senior leadership of Kiesel, Wignot and Cora McManus, Pitt will rely on experienced players like junior guard Fred Potvin to become a leader.

“I know my coaches expect me to be a great leader for the team,” Potvin said.

Potvin, along with redshirt juniors Brittany Gordon and Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson, are the eldest returning players amongst a team full of lowerclassmen.

Bugg noted that she and returning sophomore starters Stasha Carey and Yacine Diop will be responsible for becoming leaders as well.

“I think all three of us will need to be leaders, by not only leading vocally, but by example,” Bugg said.

Along with the three returning sophomores, Pitt has brought in redshirt junior Destinie Gibbs via transfer from USC and five freshmen to round out the roster.

Regardless of age, though, the goals stay the same.

“I always have high expectations going into every season,” McConnell-Serio said. “But at the same time, those expectations are realistic. The big thing going into the season early on will be game experience. We’re looking for the non-conference schedule to help us prepare for the conference season.”

Playing in the middle of one of the best conferences in the country, last year’s team was able to muster up a winning conference record, recording nine wins and seven losses, five of which were on the road.

Reaching, or eclipsing the success of last year’s team will be no small task, but the players know what lies ahead.

“Coach is very competitive and she doesn’t care if the team is young, or if the classes are old. The goals will stay the same and we want to do as much as we can again this year,” Potvin said.

According to McConnell-Serio, returning three starters while bringing in a talented freshman class will certainly help the team’s chances.

“We will be young, but we’ll play hard and we’ll be competitive. I’m excited about the challenges that lie ahead with such a young team,” McConnell-Serio said.

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