Basketball Preview: New coach identifies fragile confidence in Panthers

For the Pitt women’s basketball team, the beginning of a new season comes with some good news and some bad.

The good news: The Panthers are now members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, effectively ending the 34-game Big East losing streak that ultimately led to the firing of former head coach Agnus Berenato and the hiring of Suzie McConnell-Serio as her replacement.

The bad news: The majority of the lineup that won 17 combined games over the past two years remains largely intact and, according to McConnell-Serio, the confidence of the group is “very fragile.”

“Coming from the situation this team has been in, their confidence is very fragile,” McConnell-Serio said. “There has been some carry over of when things start to go wrong. You see it with the attitude, the body language, the demeanor. They are very fragile.”

McConnell-Serio said she is looking for her leaders on the court to step up and right the ship ahead of the Panthers’ first regular season game at home on Nov. 8 against Bucknell.

“I am looking to our leaders on the floor to step up and communicate a little more and keep us together,” McConnell-Serio said. “I see remnants of frustration when there are those struggles, so it is just continuing to minimize the frustration level.”

Pitt was picked to finish 15th in the 15-team ACC by the conference’s Blue Ribbon Panel and its head coaches poll.

Redshirt senior guard Ashlee Anderson, the most tenured member on the Pitt roster, said everyone is very optimistic headed into the season and that the group has come a long way, both as individuals and as a whole.

“I think everyone is coming into the season a lot more confident,” Anderson said. “Just the enthusiasm is different. We had a good preseason and a good summer. Everybody is stronger and has developed their game.”

Junior guard Brianna Kiesel, the only returning player to start in all 30 games last season, echoed Anderson and said the new coaching staff has instilled a sense of optimism that this team lacked in years past.

“I definitely think we are a lot more confident,” Kiesel said. “A new coaching staff, a brand-new conference, nothing but optimism and we are excited going into the new season.”

The Panthers know only so much confidence can be built up in practice and training situations and are eager to see if the work they have been putting in since May will pay off in game situations.

“We felt like that was our objective, to build their confidence as individuals, so our focus was doing a lot of individual work in the summer,” McConnell-Serio said. “As we progressed, we started doing team practices where we would do more and more team-oriented work just so we could build that chemistry.”

Learning to trust each other and executing on both ends in the new up-tempo style implemented by McConnell-Serio and her staff will be key for a Pitt team that ran a very traditional, half-court game under Berenato.

“Just continuing to build that confidence, that they can rebound from that or just letting a play go, move on and I think that is what we are trying to do every day in practice,” McConnell-Serio said. “Just developing that chemistry on the floor and knowing where everybody is and being able to play together.”

McConnell-Serio said she will continue to put her players in situations where they can be successful and build that confidence, but success won’t necessarily come right away.

“I think we are a work in progress,” McConnell-Serio said. “[We’re] playing with a lot more confidence and we have seen a lot of growth, but we know we still have a long way to go.”