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Preview: Pittsburgh looks to continue historic 2022 season with NCAA Tournament

Photo: Pitt Panthers Athletics.

The University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer team, for the first time in school history, is going dancing.

The Panthers are not just participating in the first-round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament, but the Panthers are hosting their match against Buffalo at the Petersen Sports Complex. Pittsburgh holds a 12-4-3 overall record, and was slotted in the No. 4 regional ranking in the upper left quadrant of the tournament bracket. Buffalo went 15-1-4 overall in the season, but plays in a much less tough conference, the NCAA Mid-American Conference.

This is actually the second time the Bulls have made the trip to Pittsburgh, playing Duquesne on Sept. 4, with Buffalo earning the 1-0 win. Katie Krohn scored the game-winning goal against the Dukes.

We take a look at both sides and discuss the chances for Pittsburgh to move on.

Scouting Report: Buffalo

The Bulls have an offense that isn’t foreign to spreading the ball around.

Jasmine Guerber and Arianna Zumpano lead the Bulls with eight goals each. Krohn and Leah Wengender tacked on five goals each, while Andrea Judasz added on three tallies. A total of 11 players have found the back of the net.

Payton Robertson, a senior defensive midfielder, only has one goal, but leads the way with eight assists. Right behind her, Ellie Simmons, a freshman, totaled seven assists.

In goal, fifth-year goalkeeper Emily Kelly has started all 20 of the Bulls’ matches this season. Hanna Johnson, a junior, has substituted in only one game, totaling 12 minutes. Kelly is the mainstay in goal, making 59 saves and earning 14 shutouts. She has allowed only eight goals this year. She’ll meet her match with a Pitt Panthers team that recorded a team-high 44 goals.

Buffalo is led by head coach Shawn Burke, who is in his ninth season. Burke and the Bulls recently won the MAC Tournament over Ball State University, 2-0. Wengender scored the first goal 17 minutes in, while Zumpano added the insurance tally.

However, history is on the side of the Panthers, as Buffalo has lost three games against Pitt and won once. However, these are two new squads, with their last meeting coming in 2010.

“It’s super awesome to get the NCAA automatic bid,” Hannah Callaghan, a midfielder, said. “We’re excited for it. It’s a stage that none of us have ever competed in, so it’s exciting.”

Scouting Report: Pittsburgh

The Panthers have been racking up accolades all season.

The team has the most goals in program history with 44, while also recording the most wins in program history (12) and most ACC wins (5). Pitt’s ACC victories came against Virginia Tech, Miami, Louisville, Syracuse and Notre Dame โ€” who is ranked No. 1 in their quadrant.

The Panthers did all of that all while losing integral parts of the team to injury. Chloe Minas tore her ACL in preseason training, while Amanda West suffered a season-ending injury โ€” another ACL tear โ€” against Cincinnati. Ashley Moon also tore her ACL in more recent weeks.

Leah Pais leads the way on offense with seven goals. Just like the Bulls, the Panthers have a spread- around offense. Behind Pais, three players have six goals, including West. Sarah Schupanky, who leads the team in assists with seven, also tallied six goals, along with Landy Mertz. Recording three goals each are Ellie Coffield, Samiah Phiri and freshman Katie Zailski.

Anna Bout is behind Schupansky on the assist chart, tallying six assists to her teammates. Pais has five assists while Mertz totaled four.

In goal, Caitlyn Lazzarini recorded 20 career wins against Syracuse, making her the program’s leader in wins. Lazzarini has featured and started in all 19 matches. Freshman Ellie Breech subbed in for five games and totaled 132 minutes, while fellow senior Gabby Neibart totaled 26 minutes in two games.

Lazzarini finished the season with eight shutouts, 64 saves and allowed 16 goals.

The Panthers are coached by Randy Waldrum, who gave his thoughts on the draw.

“It’s great to see how excited our young women were when the name was called and to see their excitement for a lot of years of hard work, for some of them,” Waldrum said. “For some of the others, it’s new, and I guess they think it’s old-hat to come here and do it as a freshman. For our juniors and seniors, they put in so much work to get here. It’s like being a proud father…”

Pittsburgh native Mertz said the team was “so happy” to be called.

“It’s honestly very surreal,” Mertz said. “This is years in the making for us โ€” not just the players on the field now, but the coaches, the alumni, all the administrators. This has been a long time coming for us, so to hear our name finally get called, especially after last year’s disappointment, it’s pretty indescribable.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Athletic Director Heather Lyke said she’s believed in the program the whole way.

“I believed in coach Waldrum from the start, and knew he could build this program the right way, with the right student-athletes and set such great expectations,” Lyke said. “This is just the beginning. They have a long tournament ahead of them and many, many years to continue the trajectory of this program.”

Time To Dance

Saturday night’s match will be held at Ambrose Urbanic Field in Oakland at 7 p.m. The winner will go on to face the champion of the Georgetown and Hofstra.

Georgetown is ranked No. 5 in the quadrant, so if the Panthers were to win, they would host the second round game, no matter who advances.

The sport of soccer is Rachael Kriger's area of expertise. Kriger covers Steel City FC for Pittsburgh Soccer Now and provides various columns, with occasional work with Pitt Women's Soccer. Elsewhere, Kriger is the co-managing editor of Last Word on Soccer and the social media coordinator and lead Liga MX Femenil writer for Equalizer Soccer. She is a member of the official NWSL Media Association and the North American Soccer Reporters, serving as the NASR's Vice President after two years in the role of Communications Director.

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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