There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Pittsburgh Panthers women’s soccer program did not live up to expectations in their 3-2 loss against Louisville last week. But, the Panthers, ever the resilient team, managed to make heads turn and confidence soar after a 1-1 draw on Sunday against Notre Dame, a ranked-team.
That was the common theme when Ashton Gordon, Deborah Abiodun and head coach Randy Waldrum spoke after the tie.
“We are incredibly happy with this result, not necessarily because of the tie — everyone wants to win — but the response after Louisville is incredibly impressive. We played as a team. It was every person — from Deb, the goal-scorer, to everyone on the bench. It was a complete team effort. We’re proud of how we responded and our mental toughness.”
“A good bounce back from a poor performance on Thursday,” Waldrum added. “You always want to protect your home turf.”
The first half didn’t see much options for either side. Notre Dame’s best option came off a smack against the crossbar. Notre Dame got on the board first, thanks to a Kristina Lynch goal, off an assist from Eva Gaetino. The reigning ACC Defender of the Year passed the ball between center backs Gordon and Katie Zailski, about 30-yards, on the ground, down the middle of the pitch.
“I thought the first 10, 15 minutes we showed some nerves. Once we settled, I liked the 25 minutes of the first half… We were unfortunate to have a mental-switch-off on the goal they scored,” Waldrum explained. They did a really good job finding us asleep with our two center backs and the ball they slipped through, but we responded the way you would hope.”
That response was the highlight of the game for Abiodun.
“One thing I noticed, and I want to thank my teammates, is how we bounced back,” the Nigerian midfielder stated. “Sometimes, conceding a goal when you’re doing well can bring down your morale. But our team, we kept going and we got the equalized goal. We need to create more chances and put more opportunities in net.”
Waldrum also complimented the defensive discipline of his team.
“We had a good response after going down a goal,” he said. “We could have easily folded at that point and conceded another one or two. We had a big game against a ranked team, so you need that for your RPI, and it keeps us in the hunt for an ACC Tournament spot.”
Abiodun was the hero of the match, scoring the equalizing goal off a corner kick. Keera Melenhorst took the corner kick, earning her third assist of the season.
“This is one of those games where we needed to win. I was so excited to score for my teammates,” she said. “It’s a team goal, collectively. Everyone was happy. I play for my team. It’s all for one, one for all.”
The Panthers took a staggering 12 corners in the match, only converting one. However, there were close attempts before and after Abiodun’s goal — including a diving attempt from Gordon.
“Risk everything and try to score a goal,” she said, stating her thoughts going for the header. “We were all just fighting and everyone was working hard. I had to put my body on the line to try and score. That’s what my teammates were doing as well, on and off the ball, attacking and defending. I needed to put that effort forth as well.”
Gordon — who scored a penalty in the Louisville loss — said she was happy for her young, Nigerian teammate.
“Deb is incredible. She gets the ball in the back of the net, and she’s crafty, she works hard and tackles,” Gordon gushed. “She’s just incredible. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Waldrum, who is Abiodun’s national team coach as well, said that Abiodun brings an aggressive, physical presence to the midfield — something that the Panthers were previously missing.
“She’s confident. She’s a player who made her mind up that she was going to get it,” he explained. “You’d expect someone like Katie, Ashton, one of our taller players, to get on it. Then you see Deb cutting through. That’s her mentality, that’s what she brings different to our team, her physicality and toughness to be a ball-winner in the midfield. There are times we play pretty in the midfield, so you need someone to dig out some tackles, some wins. We saw her do it at the World Cup against Canada, that’s what she brings to us. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a good time for us to have her score that goal.”
Abiodun said that, in her native Oyo, Nigeria, she grew up playing with boys and learned how to be a physical soccer player.
“Growing up, I played mostly among guys. I didn’t have the opportunity to play around girls. That was part of how I learned my physicality,” she explained. “I’m still trying to bring it down a bit. My game is going for the ball. You have to use your strengths and help your teammates.”
The Panthers will remain at home this Saturday, taking on Boston College at 7 p.m. at Ambrose Urbanic Field.