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Pitt women’s soccer defeats Virginia Tech to finish regular season unbeaten at home

Pitt women's soccer forward Samiah Phiri
Photo courtesy Pitt Athletics

PITTSBURGH — With a full student band, cheerleaders and supporters from all walks of life in the stands, No. 20 Pitt women’s soccer defeated Virginia Tech 2-1 to end the 2023 regular season at Ambrose Urbanic Field Thursday night.

The Panthers (13-4-1 overall, 6-3-1 ACC) (W-L-D) defeat the Hokies (7-8-3 overall, 4-6 ACC) for the second consecutive season, after failing to earn a win in the first nine matches in the all-time series. This is also the fourth straight win at home for the Panthers and keeps them undefeated at Ambrose Urbanic Field, with an 8-0-1 record.

Pitt held off two shots from Virginia Tech in the first five minutes and began to build their own momentum on the attack.

Panthers junior forward Samiah Phiri stole the ball off of Hokies sophomore defender Maysen Nelson, and ran towards goal in the 13th minute. She found some space and took a shot, but it went right at senior goalkeeper Alia Skinner, who blocked it. Fifth year forward Amanda West tried to take advantage of the rebound, but she scuffed her shot as the ball went behind her and Skinner easily picked it up for the save.

Pitt would eventually break through in the 18th minute, scoring a goal off some great teamwork. Junior midfielder Keera Melenhorst began the attack with a lofted pass to West streaking down the left wing. West took some touches before putting a perfect pass to fifth year midfielder Landy Mertz in the box, who just needed one touch to put it in the roof of the net to open the scoring.

Virginia Tech struggled to create chances the rest of the first half. Their best opportunity came from junior midfielder Emma Pelkowski, who tried to chip Pitt sophomore goalkeeper Ellie Breech, but she stood her ground and jumped to make the easy save.

The second half saw both teams create a plethora of chances that made for an exciting 45 minutes.

Panthers junior forward Sarah Schupansky almost connected with fifth year defender Ashton Gordon at the back post, but her header went just wide in the 59th minute.

The Hokies then had a few opportunities themselves following that Panthers miss. Sophomore forward Natalie Mitchell had space outside the box, but sent her shot high in the 60th minute. Senior forward Taylor Bryan found the ball off a free kick and laid it off to junior forward Sophie Maltese. Maltese took a touch and ripped a shot that went just wide left in the 62nd minute. Panthers sophomore defender Katie Zailski then had to make a save with her foot off the line, after Hokies junior defender Allie George put a header on goal in the 63rd minute.

Pitt had a chance to score just four minutes later in the 67th minute. Gordon sent in a long free kick, which ended up right at Skinner, who had difficulty controlling the ball and it looked like it may have gone over the line. The referee went to the monitor for a replay and determined it didn’t cross the line.

Schupansky almost scored in the 71st minute, as her free-kick hit the cross bar. West would get the ball back shortly thanks to pass from Phiri and forced a good save from Skinner at the right post.

The Panthers eventually doubled their lead in the 76th minute, once again, thanks to great ball work amongst the team. Junior midfielder Ellie Coffield took the ball off of a throw in and put in a ball in the box that bounced right to Phiri, who shot first time for the goal.

Phiri is now up to 10 goals on the season, tied with Schupansky for most on the Panthers. She has also scored five of those goals in the past six matches, with a goal in four consecutive matches from No. 22 Duke on Oct. 5 to No. 1 Florida State on Oct. 19.

She credited her great form to her teammates, in West, Schupansky and Mertz, who have played a large role in the Panthers scoring the second most goals in the ACC this season.

“I honestly think we’re one of the best [attacking teams] in the ACC,” Phiri said. “We’re so dynamic and no one can stop us. I think we’re a good little group that can play.”

Pitt women’s soccer head coach Randy Waldrum complimented Phiri on her recent form and harped on her importance to his team’s attacking prowess.

“She’s been big. I think to have another weapon to go along with Amanda and Sarah and Landy, she brings something totally different. So she’s scored some really big goals for us this year. So she’s been key for us.”

Breech had to make a diving save to the top right hand corner off a great shot from Hokies first-year forward Anna Weir.

Virginia Tech would make the match interesting towards the end, as they scored in the 84th minute to cut the deficit to one goal. Senior defender Victoria Haugen put in a pass for Mitchell, who took a touch and blasted her shot past Breech into the roof of the net.

The win for Pitt was important for Waldrum. Coming off of two close losses to No. 1 Florida State last Thursday and to No. 9 Clemson on Sunday, he said that it was incredibly important to get the victory to increase their chances of hosting in the NCAA Tournament.

Pitt women’s soccer earned a No. 5 seed in the ACC Tournament with the win and will travel to face No. 4 North Carolina on Sunday, Oct. 29. at 8:00 p.m. on the ACC Network.

The win also reinforces the dominance Pitt women’s soccer has had at home this season, something that Waldrum likes, but wants to see that great form translate to road wins in the post season.

“I think it’s a hard place for teams to play,” Waldrum said.

“Our fans are great with the support we get. Our players love playing here obviously and home-field advantage has been huge. We need to go kind of impose that on the road, whether we do that at Carolina this weekend, we have to do it again in the semis and the finals, but in the NCAAs we know that at least after that First Round, we’re probably going to have to hit the road again like we did last year. It’s time to be able to win some games on the road too.”

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