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Freshman talent has emerged to give the Panthers a boost
The Pitt women’s soccer team is undefeated through its first four games of the 2017 season. Though it’s too early to tell if that success is sustainable, the outlook is good, and several young players have already emerged as key contributors.
So far this season, the Panthers have beaten Hofstra and Duquesne, with a final score of 1-0 in each of those games. They’ve also played well on the road, earning draws against Cincinnati and Xavier in their last two outings.
To put that into perspective, every team Pitt has played this season other than Xavier posted a winning record with 10 or more wins last season. The Panthers, meanwhile, went 2-15-1 overall, earning the second-worst RPI ranking among Power Five teams. So this represents significant progress.
Much of this recent success is the result of an influx of freshman talent that has paid off surprisingly quickly. In fact, the wins over Hofstra and Duquesne were largely freshman showcases.
The season opener against Hofstra was won on the foot of freshman forward Juelle Love, who knocked in an opportunistic shot after Pride goalkeeper Ashley Wilson was forced to fend off an aggressive attack from redshirt junior striker Taylor Pryce. Pryce was credited with an assist, as was freshman midfielder Vildan Kardesler.
Kardesler — who captained the German national team at the U17 level before coming to Pitt — came up big against Duquesne with a game-winner in the 101st minute of a defensive struggle that went into double overtime. Head coach Greg Miller described Kardesler as “an extreme talent,” per Pitt’s website, and after her impressive start, it will be interesting to see what she can do this season.
Of course, Pitt wouldn’t have had the chance to win those tight games without redshirt freshman goalkeeper Katelyn McEachern. She defended eight shots against the Pride and the Dukes, recording back-to-back shutouts and earning ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors for her efforts.
Coach Miller was asked about his freshmen after the win over Duquesne, and he sounded genuinely impressed.
“This freshman class is fantastic,” he said, per Pitt’s website. “Great talent, great human beings and it’s great for their confidence early on to be contributing in that way. We’ll get the older ones involved, and they’ll get theirs. But it’s great that we have some variety, because you never know where the goals are going to come from, and we need them.”
The upperclassmen did get involved against Cincinnati on Thursday, as Pryce netted a brace to give Pitt a comfortable lead early in the second half. She was assisted by freshman forward Jess McCoppin, but that was the end of the freshman highlights.
McEachern had a tough night in Cincinnati, letting in two late goals from Bearcats defender Vanessa Gilles and midfielder Gabrielle LoPresti. The first goal was hardly McEachern’s fault, as the Pitt defenders lost track of Gilles, allowing her to slip behind them and head in a perfectly lofted ball by midfielder Katy Couperus. But LoPresti’s low shot, which McEachern got a hand on, seemed stoppable.
Still, most of this falls on the shoulders of Pitt’s defense, which let the Bearcats reel off 34 shots on the night, including 12 on goal. All in all, it was a disappointing outcome, considering Pitt had a tough Cincinnati team on the ropes early.
The Xavier game didn’t have as much offensive flash as the matchup with the Bearcats, but it ended on a much more uplifting note.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first half, the Panthers were able to fight back late and force a draw with a goal in the 84th minute. Junior forward Sarah Krause drew Xavier goalkeeper Toni Bizzarro out of the net with a shot that ricocheted toward redshirt junior Seyla Perez. Perez headed it in, evening up the score and sending the game into extra time.
McEachern made four saves in the game but was taken out for the second half after letting a header get by her in the 35th minute. She was replaced in goal by fellow redshirt freshman Amaia Pena, who made five stops and allowed no goals in 65 minutes.
With their road trip to Cincy in the books, the Panthers will head back home to take on Detroit and Illinois State. Both teams struggled in away games last season, so the Panthers have a legitimate shot at reaching four wins before they hit the road to face steeper challenges in Kent State and Nebraska.