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Pitt women gearing up for ranked Duke, Wake Forest to come to town

In years past, the Pittsburgh women’s soccer team could have feared an arrival to Ambrose Urbanic Field from ranked opponents in the ACC. In the Randy Waldrum era, though, that mindset has gone away.

Ellie Coffield was all smiles after a 2-0 win against Boston College on Saturday, saying that upcoming games against Duke (Thursday, Oct. 5) and Wake Forest (Sunday, Oct. 8) are new opportunities for the Panthers to collect wins.

“We’re excited. They’re all new opportunities. We hope to sneak some wins before we make it to the postseason, but we really want to carry on what we’ve been doing all season,” Coffield said.

Coffield, who had a stunning free-kick goal against Boston College, said that the Panthers are improving on and off the pitch. With an incoming freshman class of 15, there were new partnerships that needed to be formed and chemistry to be built. Consider the addition of freshmen Deborah Abiodun and Olivia Lee, who started against Boston College at outside back.

“At the phase we are of the season, I think we found good connections on the field, and off the field, but specifically with the roles that we have,” Coffield explained. “Tonight, we really saw that into play. I think we could have had more goals off chances, but the connections we’ve made have been really good.” 

Head coach Waldrum — who said he was pleased by the win over an ACC side on Saturday night — said that the Panthers need to work on their finishing.

“We need to work on finishing,” Waldrum stated. “We need to be better in that part of the field. It’s an area that comes in groves for us. We have a few games where it’s four or five goals, then we have games where it’s one or two. We’re creating the chances. I would like to get us more consistent in that piece of it. Although, I’m sure, statistically, we look like one of the higher-scoring teams in the conference.” 

The sixth-year head coach said that the Panthers also need to protect the ball when playing out of the back, after giving up a few easy balls against the Eagles.

“I think decision making, when we play out of the back, needs to be better… We need to be more efficient with building out of the back and taking care of the ball when we do that,” he said. 

Sarah Schupansky, who is the team’s leading goal scorer with eight tallies this season, scored against Boston College. She has been the main focal point of the Panthers offense, along with powerhouse scorer Amanda West — who has scored more solely at home than any other Panthers player has scored both home and away.

“All credit to the team, honestly. I clean up what they start,” Schupansky said. “I’ve been working hard, and so have they. The coaches have believed in me. Every goal I score is for the team so I hope I can continue that into the rest of the season.” 

Coming up against a strong Duke defense and a ranked Wake Forest side doesn’t bother Schupansky. She knows her side can match up well against the two ranked opponents.

“ACC is the best conference, but games like this and a coaching staff like this build our confidence,” the junior said. “We’re going to go in with a game plan, solidified by the coaches, and play our best game. If we get into our playing style, I think we can leave both of those games with results.” 

Looking for wins… and a trip to the Tournament

Back in September, the Panthers dropped a contest against Louisville in a tight, 3-2 loss. It seems cruel to keep bringing up one loss, but it was a reality check for Pitt.

The Panthers won’t overestimate or underestimate their opponents. They didn’t underestimate the Eagles on Saturday, and when two ranked teams come to town, the Panthers will have a mindset that they can hang with the ‘big guns.’

Pitt, though, is keeping focused on improving on their finishing and keeping Duke and Wake Forest out of their goal.

“The Louisville game is one that you don’t want to look back on and think, ‘Man, if we didn’t lose that, we would be there.’ We need to keep winning,” Waldrum said. “We have some games at home, and we do well at home. Duke is going to be a difficult opponent, but I feel good about our team and our chances. And then Wake Forest has come on a little late in the season. That’s good for us, because their RPI goes up, so it helps us to play them now.”

Waldrum said that he and the coaching staff — which includes his son, Ben, and goalkeeper coach Jesse Goleman — told the players the importance of the three-straight home games.

“We told them last week that this game this week, and the two next week, are three really big games for us,” the head coach said. “It would go a long way if we could snag some wins in these games, and get back into the tournament. That way, we won’t have must-win games with Clemson or Florida State on the road. We still have to take care of business with Syracuse in there. You can’t overlook anyone — and we learned that after the Louisville game.” 

Pitt will take on Duke first, on Thursday night, at 7 p.m., at Ambrose Urbanic Field. A few days later, on Sunday, they will host Wake Forest at 1 p.m.

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.

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