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Ellie Breech soaking up opportunity between the sticks for Pitt

Numerous times last season, Pittsburgh Panthers women’s soccer head coach Randy Waldrum expressed his belief and commitment in then-freshman goalkeeper Ellie Breech.

The Panthers were starting Caitlyn Lazzarini, the leading all-time wins leader, for her senior season. Breech, a freshman last year, was learning behind Lazzarini in training and matches.

Then, during the NCAA Tournament, Lazzarini tore her ACL. In came the young, inexperienced Breech. The Mechanicsburg, Pa., native then started against Florida State in the tournament. Since then, she has been the Panthers’ undisputed starter in between the sticks.

And, she’s only a sophomore.

“Luckily last year, I stayed ready and I trained hard all year,” Breech told Pittsburgh Soccer Now. “I was ready to step in at any moment. I was able to learn a lot from someone who had more experience. That has shown this year, being able to watch and learn Lazz play. Her experience has rubbed off on me. It’s made it easier to step into this role and play the way that I have.”

Breech said she remains in touch with the former Panthers goalkeeper, as the two are close friends.

“She tells me to stay on my toes. You never know when you’re going to be called into action,” she explained. “Especially when you have a great defense like we do. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of action, so you need to be ready for when those moments happen.”

Lazzarini, who recently moved to New York for a career opportunity, told Pittsburgh Soccer Now that Breech’s biggest growth area is her confidence.

“Her ability and technique has always been there but last year as a freshman she lacked some security in herself, partly because she didn’t get too too many games to prove her abilities to herself and others on the pitch,” Lazzarini said, via text message. “But she’s taken this position this year by the horns and you can visibly see a difference with her presence on the field and for that I am proud of her. She came in last year during a really tough game in the NCCA tournament vs. FSU which I know was unbelievably difficult for her. But the night that I was told I could not play because of my knee injury (the night before the FSU game) I wrote her a long letter letting her know that I believe in her 100% and so does the team. I gave her words of encouragement because I knew that this was not an easy test for a freshman and I basically let her know that regardless of the outcome of the game, she is a hero for us.”

Lazzarini added that the two first met during Olympic Development Program (ODP) training.

“[When Breech came to Pitt]… She let me know that she knew it was me and that she’s always looked up to me & thought I was cool,” Lazzarini added. “From there I felt a responsibility towards her and cared about her success even if we were competing for a year. She is a gem and we definitely made each other better.”

This season, Breech has appeared in 18 matches, recording 51 saves and four shutouts. Her save percentage is a whopping .735 percent, and has helped the Panthers record a 13-5-1 record. With the playoffs coming up — Pitt takes on North Carolina in the opening round of the ACC Tournament — Breech will get plenty of work.

Not only has Lazzarini helped her via conversation, but she is getting plenty of help, advice and backup from her teammates, as well. In front of her are Ashton Gordon, a fifth-year senior, and Katie Zailski, her classmate who stepped into a starting role last year.

“I rely on them a lot, especially because Katie got a lot of minutes last year and this is Ashton’s fifth year of college soccer, so they know a lot about what they’re doing,” Breech said. “Lainey [Fuchs] has played soccer on the international level [with Austria], so she’s great to rely on. They know how to show up in big moments, and that’s rubbed off on me, as well.” 

At the coaching level, she has the confidence of Randy Waldrum, Ben Waldrum and recently promoted goalkeeper coach Jesse Goleman.

“Even before Jesse got promoted, he was totally invested in us,” Breech stated. “That’s only gone up ten-fold. He’s such a great asset, he truly cares about us. He gives us individual films and cuts training for us. He’s so invested and wants the best for all of us. I’m very happy we have him.”

As for the coaching staff, Breech said the belief from last year carries over to 2023.

“It makes me feel great that the coaching staff supports me and has my back,” she said. “They believe in me. Also, there is still so much work to be done. Training, every day, is a battle. Just because I’ve been starting, that doesn’t mean the work stops. You have to keep training hard and be ready. Every game that I start, I’m extremely grateful and happy or.”

The sophomore is one of three goalkeepers, with freshmen Emily Edwards and Emma Van Meter on the roster. Edwards came in the spring, so the two are a bit acclimated to each other. Breech said their nickname — since the first letter of each goalkeeper’s name is “E” — is “Triple E.”

“We have such a great group, it’s really fun. We’re super close,” Breech said. “It’s nice that we have this community with each other. Nobody else on the pitch goes through the struggles that we do. Only the other goalkeepers know what it’s like. It’s great to have them, and have a competitive training environment.”

Throughout the year, Breech has learned plenty of lessons by gaining experience on the pitch. She was goalkeeper for another historic Pitt season, where the Panthers earned their first-ever ACC win over Duke, and also set the record for most ACC wins with six.

Breech is also learning to embrace mistakes this season, and quickly correcting them.

“Mistakes are going to happen, it’s just how you bounce back from them and how you react,” she said. “Mistakes are going to happen in practice, too. That’s what practice is for. Don’t let your mistakes define you. Everyone is going to make mistakes, but not everybody is going to react to them well.” 

The Panthers take on North Carolina on Sunday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. ET.

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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