The Pitt News

Women’s soccer thriving thanks to strong freshmen play

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Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

Jeff Ahearn / Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeff Carpenter / For The Pitt News

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Sporting a young roster and a weak resumé, there was little reason to expect much from the Pitt women’s soccer team this year. Six games into the season, it appears that youth might be reversing the program’s fortunes.

Touting a 4-1-1 record and coming off a successful 2-0 weekend, the Panthers must now maintain momentum, as they prepare to take on Liberty this Thursday, and travel to Akron on Sunday.

The Panthers came away with a pair of victories in their two games this past weekend with scores of 2-0 and 3-1, respectively, against Villanova and La Salle.

The play of Pitt’s fresh faces paced the team through the weekend. Both freshman forward Sarah Krause and freshman midfielder Juliana Vazquez scored their first career NCAA goals, while Junior defender Siobhan McDonough buried her first goal of the season against La Salle.

The recruiting class has turned into quite an impact for Pitt and coach Greg Miller.

“That’s always the recruiting plan right, you bring in some kids that can share some of the load, and it’s great to see freshmen get on the score sheet, whether it’s an assist or a goal,” Miller said. “The more people that can be contributing from that standpoint the more balanced our attack will be.”

They enter play this weekend equipped with a three-game winning streak. The Panthers’ play has impressed Miller during the run.

“I think the team is playing great, I think we have a lot of great momentum, and this week is a big challenge for us,” Miller said. “To see whether we continue to make progress moving forward — and get results — or if we will take a little bit of a slip because we have too much confidence.”

The Panthers’ solid play led to a wide scoring margin, outscoring opponents 13-3 so far this season. The new players have been a big part of that, as five freshmen have now tallied goals this year. Krause described her first goal as “lifting a weight off her shoulders,” while Juliana Vazquez labeled hers as “definitely exciting and helpful to my confidence.”

Freshman forward Jarena Harmon tallied a hat trick versus Robert Morris in a 6-0 victory on Aug. 23. Following her goal versus Villanova last weekend, she now leads the team with four scores. Freshman forward Kaylee Rabatin also sits with a goal, and freshmen defender Alli Higgs and redshirt freshman defender Seyla Perez have been crucial in helping limit the opposition’s opportunities on goal.

While the freshmen players make the transition to college, classes and collegiate soccer look easy, it hasn’t been as smooth as their success would lead people to believe.

“It’s not an easy transition, but the coaches and the upperclassmen really help you,” Vazquez says. “Staying focused on the positives is key.”

The Panthers enter the weekend with a crucial swing at home against Liberty on Thursday before traveling to one of the better teams from their non-conference schedule in Akron.

Miller wants his players to limit any sort of mental errors, while still playing with ferocity.

“[We’ve got to] keep our established grit and battling as the basis of everything we do while being sharper on both sides of the ball and limiting any silly mistakes from the back while playing clean,” Miller said.

The team’s continued focus and energy will be the keys in coming away with a successful weekend and closing out the non-conference schedule. Two victories would do a lot for keeping a sense of confidence and momentum heading into the ACC slate — one that the Panthers struggled with last year, going 2-8-0 in conference play.

The team and its fans will also host a distinguished guest on Thursday, as Women’s World Cup champion Meghan Klingenberg from the United States National Team will attend the matchup versus Liberty. She will talk to the team before they take the pitch for kick off at 6 p.m.

The Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, native Klingenberg will be available for pictures as well as a Q&A session at halftime.

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Women’s soccer thriving thanks to strong freshmen play