Pitt women’s soccer goes into ACC slate with program best record


Junior Taylor Pryce and the Panthers had to settle for a season-opening draw at Michigan Friday night. | Meghan Sunners / Senior Staff Photographer

By Jeff Carpenter / Staff Writer

For Pitt’s women’s soccer team, it’s time to crank the difficulty up from “easy.”

After cruising through its non-conference schedule to the tune of a 6-1-1 record, Pitt’s women’s soccer team now has the privilege of playing against opponents in the toughest conference in collegiate soccer. Currently, the ACC boasts the top three teams in the country: North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia.

And while all three are on Pitt’s schedule this season, the Panthers will first turn their eyes to the North Carolina State Wolfpack for Sunday’s 1 p.m. matchup, hoping to defend a five-game winning streak.

Head coach Greg Miller said conference play is where the schedule becomes serious.

“It’s a critical game for us, not only the first ACC game, but us going from our non-conference to our conference schedule and the momentum we’ve built,” Miller said. “It’s one of our first real tests.”

Pitt enters conference play relatively unblemished after finishing last year with a dismal 2-8-0 record against its ACC opponents.

The Wolfpack are a good barometer as the opening game opponent for Pitt. NC State has struggled the most out of any ACC school in the early going with a 4-4-0 record.

The last time the Panthers and Wolfpack met, Pitt left Raleigh, North Carolina with a 3-0 victory on Oct. 4 last year..

While the Panthers will enter Sunday with a clean slate in the ACC, their early season has set up a few milestones.

Pitt has achieved the program’s record for best start, beating the 1998 team’s 5-2-0 start.

But Pitt could have looked better — the draw versus St. Francis to start the year stands out alongside the overtime loss to Northern Colorado, a small school from the Big Sky Conference.

The Panthers haven’t been burying a torrent of goals into the back of the net, but they’ve been doing it when needed, coming out strong after game breaks and securing early goals.

“As we move into conference play, we will need to be able to string together full games of great soccer with extraordinary moments, instead of good soccer with great moments.”

The team currently sits tied for eighth in the nation in assists per game at 2.88. Forwards of all ages have contributed assists, with sophomore Taylor Pryce, freshman Kaylee Rabatin and senior Roosa Arvas leading the team.

Pitt has also succeeded at keeping the ball out of its own net. Junior goalkeeper Taylor Francis has four shutouts so far this season, aided by an inexperienced but productive backline.

But Francis knows the flashes Pitt has shown early have to become more consistent to compete in the ACC.

“As we move into conference play, we will need to be able to string together full games of great soccer with extraordinary moments, instead of good soccer with great moments,” the goalie said.

The Panthers rank 10th in the nation in team save percentage, with a 91.11 percent clip. Coupled with defensive performances that have held opponents like Akron to just three shots, there hasn’t been much leeway for the opposition to score on Francis, who has guarded the goal for every minute of the Panthers’ season so far.

Pitt’s ratio of 18 goals scored to just four conceded shows why it set records. However, the Panthers’ accomplishments haven’t been strictly team efforts, as some individual players are making noise themselves.

Pryce currently sits atop the points lead for the team with 10. The Thornhill, Ontario native has buried three goals this year as she develops chemistry with freshman forward Jarena Harmon.

“We feed off each other’s energy,” Pryce said of Harmon.

This is because of the similarities between the two’s playing style.

“[Harmon] and I sort of play the same.” Pryce said. “She’s a very dynamic player … she’s always going to grind to get something,whether it is a shot on goal or a corner kick.”

Meanwhile, the veteran Arvas has accumulated three goals and nine points this season, causing the Kuopio, Finland, product to rise up the Panthers’ all-time ranks. She is tied with Ashley Cuba for first on the points leaderboards at 51. Cuba graduated from Pitt in 2011.

Considering the adjustments she had to make to get to this historic point — American soccer is faster and more physical than Finland’s — Arvas appreciates her place in history.

“[The record] means [a] lot to me,” Arvas said. “That means that I have been able to help my team even though I had to learn completely new way to play soccer.”

Francis said the team needs to push themselves to be tougher.

“We also need to be better on set pieces offensively and defensively, more aggressive in the air and more physical on the other team,” Francis said.

Even if the road will get tougher, the team is greeting the challenge with determination.

“We’re very proud of how we’ve done and happy with the results, but we can’t let it get to ourselves, because this is where ACC starts, and this is where it’ll get harder,” redshirt freshman Seyla Perez said.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field Sunday.