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PREVIEW: Excitement of Waldrum era finally kicks off for Pitt women

Pitt's Vildan Kardesler is among group of returning players for Pitt women's soccer - (Photo - Pitt Athletics)

PREVIEW: Excitement of Waldrum era finally kicks off for Pitt women

First-year head coach Randy Waldrum and his staff will look to position the Pitt women’s program for success in one of the NCAA’s top women’s soccer conferences, as well as on a national stage.

While Waldrum knows it won’t be easy, and it might take a little bit of time — he’s brought a new level of excitement to a program that’s been lacking any significant accomplishments in its near 20 year history.

The veteran coach, who’s won a pair of national championships at Notre Dame is excited and bracing for this challenge which starts this coming weekend, hosting a pair of games at Ambrose Urbanic Field. In fact, the Panthers will play their first four games of the season at home.

Pitt will kick the season off Friday at 7 p.m., taking on Ohio in the first of a four-game homestand. The Panthers will return to action Sunday at 1 p.m. in an afternoon battle with Morehead State.

Waldrum brings national championship experience to Pitt, having captured two national titles as the head coach of the Notre Dame women’s soccer program in 2004 and 2010. A two-time national coach of the year (2009 by Soccer America; 2010 by NSCAA), the Texas native will look to catapult the Pitt program into ACC and national prominence.

“It’s a wonderful time for Pitt women’s soccer, not only for me and my family, but I just think the change is needed, there’s a history and a culture that we certainly need to change and I am excited about taking a leadership role and helping us get to the goals that we all have,” Waldrum said as he was introduced in December. “The search committee and the process which was utilized in this whole hiring procedure was so professionally done and, I can tell you I have been in the college game for a long time, and this was the best of any university I have ever been at, so I really appreciated that.”

RELATED: PSN’s 1-on-1 with Pitt women’s soccer Randy Waldrum 

With only two winning seasons in its history — one of those under recently fired coach Greg Miller — the bar has been raised significantly.

When Pitt AD Heather Lyke introduced the new coach in December, it was clear that she wasn’t messing around when it came to making a splash hire at Pitt to bring women’s soccer to a new level in Pittsburgh.

“This was an opportunity to bring in a national caliber coach. You go out and recruit the best. You want to best people you can have,” Lyke said. “We conducted National search. It’s exciting. Randy brings very impressive credentials and he’s very committed to being here.

Pitt will field a relatively new squad in its 2018 campaign, as 14 of the team’s 28 members are new to the Panthers. The team, however, will be aided by the return of standout red hirt seniors Taylor Pryce and Ashley Moreira as well as returning starters Alli HiggsCheyenne HudsonVildan Kardesler, Aideen O’DonoghueMikayla Schmidt, and Bel Van Noorden.

Pitt’s recruiting class includes a local product, Maddie Clayton, who tore up scoring sheets in leading Waynesburg Central to its first WPIAL title in history.

RELATED: Clayton part of Pitt women’s recruiting class

Clayton is part of a Waldrum’s first recruiting class at Pitt that includes a number of traditional freshman, but also an number of Junior College recruits that were brought in to help fill some immediate needs.

RELATED: Pitt adds to its first Waldrum recruiting class with Larissa Caldas 

The Panthers will take part in 18 regular season games in 2018, including 11 home matches, in addition to a pair of exhibition contests. The regular season will see five meetings with teams ranked in the top 25 at the conclusion of the 2017 season, including three in the top 15 and two in the top 10. The Panthers are set to face off against 12 teams in the top 75 of last season’s final RPI rankings.

Pitt went 1-1 in the exhibition season, defeating Fairleigh Dickinson 2-1 on penalty kicks and falling to No. 23 Ohio State by a score of 2-0 on the road. In the opener against FDU, Ashley Moreira scored Pitt’s lone goal in regulation, while all five Pitt strikers connected on penalty kicks.

All three Pitt keepers saw time net, with Amaia Pena earning the start, followed by Katherine Robinson and Claire Hinkle.

SCOUTING OHIO

The Bobcats went 7-10-3 in 2017 with a 4-5-2 conference record, falling in the Mid-American Conference Quarterfinals to No. 1 Kent State in penalty kicks.

The Bobcats are coming off a solid 6-0 exhibition win over Youngstown State with five of the six goals coming in the second half. Junior midfielder Alivia Milesky tallied a hat trick and registered two assists. Last season Milesky registered two goals on 16 shots on goal. She averaged an impressive 83.2 minutes per match and played in all 11 conference games. Freshman forward Abby Townsend also scored twice in exhibition, both coming in the second half off Milesky assists.

The Bobcats are projected to finish 8th in 2018 MAC Preseason Poll with 65 points, just above Western Michigan.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the United States. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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