Randy Waldrum and the University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer team is gearing up for a hefty 2022 season. With a strong mixture of ACC and non-conference matches, the Pittsburgh Panthers are returning a large majority of their roster and looking to make a strong run at the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Waldrum, speaking after practice Aug. 12 at the Petersen Sports Complex, said that the team is working through their goals this season. At the top of their list is making the NCAA Tournament.
The road to that big goal begins on Aug. 18, with the Panthers heading to Montana to take on Gonzaga at 3 p.m. ET, and then take on Montana a couple days later on Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. ET.
Pittsburgh marks its return to Ambrose Urbanic Field on Aug. 25, taking on UMass at 5 p.m.
Waldrum knows that the schedule is busy, but it gives the Panthers a good chance to, hopefully, compile wins and make a strong bid for the NCAA Tournament.
This year, he’s got a majority of his starters back. A few players entered the transfer window and moved on from Pittsburgh — including goalkeeper Kat Robinson (Ohio State) and Anna Rico (Notre Dame) — but Waldrum has a bulk of his 2021 roster back, including top goal-scorer Amanda West. Some new faces have joined the Panthers, including Keera Melenhorst, who is currently with the Canadian U-20 women’s national team at the U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica.
— Pitt Women's Soccer (@Pitt_WSOC) August 9, 2022
Midfield Questions for the Panthers
The Panthers, though, are tinkering with the midfield and awaiting the return of Melenhorst, due to a recent injury for junior Chloe Minas. The midfielder from Quebéc recently tore her ACL and will be out for the 2022 season.
Waldrum said that the void left by Minas is the “big question mark” for the Panthers.
“Keera is away right now, but she’ll be a big addition when she comes back,” Waldrum said. “Hopefully she can help us fill that void, as well.”
Other players that Waldrum highlighted in the midfield include senior Anna Bout and junior Emily Yaple.
“We like how the midfield has evolved in the last couple of years,” Waldrum said. “Anna Bout, you have to watch her to appreciate what she does. She’s not going to be an Amanda West that gets a lot of stats. But we say she paints the whole field, she covers a lot of ground and her movement without the ball is so good. She’s so creative. We expect her to continue on that way. Emily Yaple has been better and better each year. She’s one of those midfield players that can create those scoring chances.”
Yaple recently spent the offseason preparing for the ACC by competing in the USL W-League with South Carolina United FC, where she scored four goals and provided one assist in eight matches.
“She’s good for three or four goals per year,” Waldrum continued. “She’s creative in and around the box. Emily has another year under her belt, and we watched her this summer with the W-League. She had a good year down in South Carolina.”
Goalkeeper Battle Commences
Meanwhile, another question mark continues to be the goalkeeper position. Pitt went from having a stalwart in Amaia Peña to having Kat Robinson play between the sticks last year. However, Robinson moved to Ohio State this past offseason. Waldrum said the goalkeeper battle is mainly between senior Caitlyn Lazzarini and freshman Ellie Breech. However, don’t be surprised in early, non-conference matches to see Gabby Neibert, a senior, being rewarded with time for her growth.
Waldrum is also looking for Lazzarini to step up in a leadership role.
“Caitlyn Lazzarini has to step up in goal, whether it’s her or Ellie Breech,” Waldrum said. “They will split some time in the beginning of the season. Laz is a senior, so she’s got some qualities that we expect from behind. She’s the one player that sees the whole field. We need heer to be vocal.”
Also needing to step up with Minas’ injury — Waldrum stated that Minas also brought a wave of leadership that’s hard to replace — and in a leadership role are the bulk of seniors that started their career with Waldrum. Players like West and Mexican youth international Athalie Palomo.
“We need them to step up,” Waldrum said. “Amanda has done that for us, year in and year out. We don’t expect anything different. Ashton [Gordon], since she came in last year from Arkansas, has stepped up. There is leadership there.”
— Pitt Women's Soccer (@Pitt_WSOC) August 10, 2022
Very little turnover for Pitt
Waldrum said that there is only one player with no eligibility left after this season: defender Hailey Davidson. Other players still have an extra year of eligibility from COVID-19, but he is unsure whether all will use it or not.
With his team returning almost entirely intact, Waldrum said that his starters will remain the same, with the exception of Minas. However, he has his options ready and available off the bench to make a big impact.
“I would say players like Fleming Dean would be one that’s done really well,” Waldrum said. “She’s an incoming freshman from Georgia. Kate Zalisky is a centerback from South Carolina. Haylee Mersereau came in as a freshman and has done really well. I could see those players getting in and getting some time. We’ve had a couple transferred in from the portal. Samiah Phiri from Oklahoma State is going to add a different dimension for us up front. She’ll look to get a lot of time.”
Waldrum also has options on the bench that include players that have been with him for a couple seasons now.
“Between having someone like West, Sarah Schupansky and Landy Mertz up front, we have Leah Pais that has been playing extremely well,” Waldrum said. “We have some depth in that area. Bri Hilsenteger is starting to play well for us in midfield. She’ll be playing and getting quite a bit of time.”
And, with Davidson being the only player officially done with eligibility, Waldrum is already looking toward the future on his defense.
“Ashley Moon is an outside back. She’s the future, once Hailey Davidson graduates this year and depending on what Athalie Palomo does, whether she comes back for her covid year or not,” Waldrum explained. “She’ll get some time as we groom her for that spot.”
The Panthers begin non-conference play, and their season as a whole, on Aug. 18, against Gonzaga. Meanwhile, ACC play begins on Sept. 16 with a road match against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, at 5 p.m. ET.
Our 2022 schedule is 𝐇𝐄𝐑𝐄 🗓️
We're set to host 9⃣ home matches this fall, which one are you looking forward to most⁉️
— Pitt Women's Soccer (@Pitt_WSOC) June 30, 2022