It’s that time of year when teams are battling to solidify a spot in their conference tournament. In much of its recent history, Pitt women’s soccer team would be struggling to win even just one game. But now, they’re in decent position to make a push to earn a spot in the ACC playoffs.
The Panthers went 2-1 in a recent home stand, though some could argue it could’ve been 3-0 if it weren’t for some questionable calls in its 3-1 loss to ACC powerhouse North Carolina.
All in all though, those two wins were huge for the Panthers, keeping its hopes alive to have a chance at some post-season play.
Goalkeeper Amaia Pena, who was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week, spoke to PSN’s Rachel McKrieger after the 2-1 victory over N.C State on Saturday.
“We keep fighting every single week,” said Pena. “We have nothing to lose, nobody thought we were going to be (here) at this point this season, but we are.”
Pena made a career high 11 saves in the victory over N.C State which is tied for most saves by an ACC Goalkeeper this season.
This Pitt team honestly is probably a little bit ahead of schedule with this rebuild of the program for Head Coach Randy Waldrum and his staff.
Except for the road match against Notre Dame, the Panthers have been in every match this season, and have been in battles against the top competition on their schedule in Florida State and North Carolina.
“It’s a big bench mark of how far we’ve come,” said Waldrum after the N.C State match. “We go to N.C State last year and lost 6-0…To grind out a win like this against a really good N.C State team…Just means tons for our program.”
A big reason why the Panthers may be ahead of schedule is how fast Freshman Amanda West has burst on to the scene and gives the Panthers a big time threat on top of their structure. The presence of West has helped take the pressure off of the Panthers midfield to help maintain and retake possession from opposing teams. West has netted eight goals and has assisted on eight as well for the Panthers. West is currently tied for fourth for most goals in a single season in school history and she’s tied for fourth most assists in a single year in school history and ranks ninth in career assists.
Looking at the rest of the ACC, Pitt may be the one team that no one wants to face in the tournament as they have just continued to grow since the preseason and are starting to click on all cylinders.
The Top-8 in the ACC will make the conference tournament and right now Pitt is in a tie for 8th place with Virginia Tech with 8 points.
The Panthers are a point behind Clemson for 7th, two points behind Notre Dame for 6th and three points behind Duke for 5th.
With three matches, 9 possible points remain on the schedule for Pitt to climb up in the standings.
Let’s take a look at the remaining matches for the Panthers in the 2019 regular season:
Thursday October 24 at Wake Forest (7 pm)
The Demon Deacons will be looking to play spoiler against the Panthers on Thursday as they enter the match with a record of 5-6-4 (0-4-3, 3 points, in ACC). Wake Forest entered conference play this season with a record of 5-2-1, but the ACC is known as one of the best, if not the best, conferences for Women’s Soccer and that continues to show this season.
Hulda Arnarsdottir leads Wake Forest with 7 goals and Hayley Younginer has found the back of the net 5 times. The Demon Deacons do have depth when it comes to scoring with their lineup also. Wake Forest has won two of the three meetings against Pitt. The Panthers victory came on September 24, 2015 as they defeat the #23 Demon Deacons 2-1 in Overtime.
The match will be available to watch on ACC Network Extra (ESPN+)
Sunday October 27 at #17 Clemson (1 pm)
On Sunday, the Panthers will be in Clemson to take on the Tigers (9-4-1) as they are also battling for one of the last few spots in the conference tournament during the final week of the regular season.
Entering conference play, Clemson was 6-0-1 and just like with Wake Forest, the toughness of the ACC has showed and they are in a fight for one of the final spots in the conference tournament.
“We approach every game the same,” said Tigers Head Coach Eddie Radwanski. “(We) Try to be as consistent as possible and be the best “us”/team we can be. This way our group is only focused on being and playing the best version of ourselves and kind of takes the pressure off.”
Clemson and Pitt, as I stated earlier, are battling for one of the last few spots in the conference tournament and it just goes to show how competitive top to bottom this conference is in Women’s Soccer.
“This (Clemson) is a team that has been in 3 ACC Semi-Finals in the last 4 years, so focusing on us has worked well,” said Radwanski. “It does speak volumes of the strength of the ACC. This is the best Women’s soccer conference in the country and it is not easy. Each ACC game is a battle and you better show up to play because on any given day everyone is capable of beating anyone. Honestly, if you look at the current standings everyone from Duke on down to Wake (Forest) is in with a chance.”
Mariana Speckmaier leads the Tigers with 6 goals on the season and Maliah Morris has tallied 4 goals and two assists as well.
“We have many leaders on our team, (but) Mariana and Maliah happen to be more on the offensive side so they stand out,” said Radwanski. Mariana is always a threat on the field and is a real competitor, a fighter and can strike at any moment.”
Morris is unfortunately is dealing with an injury at the moment, but is a special player when on the field.
“Maliah is a special player with a great instinct to score goals and create goals,” said Radwanski. “The scoring depth to our team we feel is one of our best strengths. This team likes to share the ball and we have confidence and belief in everyone who steps on the field. We are definitely a “We” team, our strength is in our group, our culture, working together. It’s been a real fun group to work with because they are eager to learn and get better.”
The match will be available to watch on ACC Network Extra (ESPN+)
Thursday October 31 vs Virginia Tech (7 pm)
The Panthers will close out the 2019 season regular season on Halloween night against the team they are currently tied with in the ACC Standings in the Hokies.
Depending on how the first two matches go, this match could have a lot of importance for positioning in the tournament or if they even get into the conference tournament.
Just like Clemson and Wake Forest, Virginia Tech entered conference play with a lot of momentum with a record of 8-0-0, but again the depth of the ACC makes it one of the best conferences for Women’s Soccer in the nation.
Nicole Kozlova leads the Hokies with 5 goals and 2 assists and Emily Gray has added 4 goals in 3 assists.
The match will be available to watch on ACC Network Extra (ESPN+).