NCAA DI Women’s Soccer Tournament – Second Round
Pitt (15-5-1) vs Arkansas (15-4-2)
Friday, November 17, 2023 | 7:30 p.m. (ET) | Arkansas Soccer Field, Fayetteville, AK
For the second time in program history, Pitt women’s soccer team has advanced to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Panthers will have to go on the road to face No. 2 seeded (in the region) Arkansas, after both teams posted impressive first-round wins.
The Panthers’ rolled to a 6-0 triumph over Ohio State on Saturday night, at Ambrose Urbanic Field, while the Razorbacks secured a 5-0 win against Grambling. The winner of Friday night’s contest will go face-to-face against the victor of Notre Dame versus Memphis on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Arkansas Soccer Field.
This will be a massive challenge for the Panthers, as Arkansas own a 32-match home unbeaten streak that dates back to 2021, as the Hogs are 30-0-2 in this stretch, outscoring opponents 107-20
One Pitt player who knows a thing or two about Arkansas’ program, is Pitt fifth-year senior Ashton Gordon, who transferred to Pitt from Arkansas in 2021.
“It definitely sparked something,” Gordon said, moment’s after the Ohio State victory. “I have a ton of respect for Arkansas and the coaches and players there. But I am very excited to play that game.”
Gordon isn’t much of an ‘inside agent’ though, as she admitted being that she’s in her third year for the Panthers.
“I kind of have a soccer brain regardless of who we play and anyone that I watch I can pick up on ways to exploit them that can positively impact how we play,” she said. “That’s no different for Arkansas.”
PSN’s Rachael Kriger Profiled Ashton Gordon in her feature earlier this week:
This is the first time the Panthers and the Razorbacks are meeting in program history.
Pitt’s attack, which is among one of the highest scoring in the Nation, showed its full arsenal in defeating an Ohio State side that typically defends well with a six goal onslaught.
“Obviously, coming out against a good team like Ohio State, you’re not expecting to score six goals,” Pitt forward Landy Mertz said.
“But we had a job tonight and it was to prove something to everybody and I think we got the job done.”
Pitt women’s soccer received a No. 7 seed in this region of the NCAA Tournament, despite finishing with a No. 11 ranking and making it to the ACC Semifinals for the first time in program history. They also dropped three seeds from last season, which head coach Randy Waldrum didn’t understand, but pointed to the disrespect the team has received all 2023 from rankings to the postseason.
“I think so,” Waldrum said on Pitt proving something against Ohio State.
“I thought we were seeded too low. I didn’t think it was a good seeding for us, but all season, I mean, my gosh, we started the season No. 14 in the country and we won six games and we dropped out of the top 25. So, it was kind of the norm for the season and why we weren’t getting the respect I felt like we needed to get, you’d have to ask the committee that I guess. But I don’t think our players ever thought about it. We didn’t really talk about it with them as a staff. We just said, “Look. We play who’s in front of us. If we are as good as we think we are, then if it’s Ohio State, it’s Ohio State. We’ll go from there.” So the players just did a good job of just keeping the focus and not letting those things affect them.”
The co-champions of the SEC in the regular season, and runner-up in the SEC Tournament (lost 1-0 to Georgia, in the Final), the Hogs will bring a potent attack of its own into the match-up — securing all five of their goals in the second half of play in the win vs Grambling, after posting 15 shots in the first 45 minutes. Freshman Bella Field put her named on three goals on Friday – becoming the first Razorback to secure three goals in a half in over 20 years. The first two goals of the night happed 25 seconds apart from each other from Field and senior Ava Tankersley. Tankersley earned the assist on two of Field’s goals. Forward Sophia Aragon was the Hogs’ final goal scorer of the night – leaving six minutes left of play.
Make no mistake, the Razorbacks are a solid defensive side, as they’ve only surrendered three goals in the last seven matches, and have posted 10 clean sheets this season.
The Panthers will look to do what they’ve done all season, and look to get out on the front foot early.
“We’re no longer just sitting back, and then will be hoping to counter,” Waldrum stated, then added.
“We especially believe that our front five is as good as any in the country,”
One of the reasons that the Panthers can make a case to go deep in the NCAA tournament, is that they’ve become even more elite and dynamic attacking unit that now has tournament experience, as Waldrum and his staff have utilized and found ways to get the most out of the collective group of players, using mostly a 3-4-3 formation this season.
When looking at the stats, the Panthers are 14th overall with 51 goals, 8th in assists with 55 good for 2.75 per game; 1st in corners with 8.75 per game; 9th in points per game(3.75), and in the prestigious ACC, Pitt completed the season with an 8-0-1 record at home (6-4-0 on the road, with 0-1-0 in neutral site games).
In Pitt’s version of the 3-4-3, they’re almost always committing five players to the attack while there’s a solid rotation of five who cover underneath and focus more on defending.
PSN profiled Pitt’s attacking successes this season a week ago in the following feature article:
The Panthers will look to keep the season going, and stay on the front foot on Friday night in Fayetteville.
It should be one of the best match-ups in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
For more on Pitt women’s soccer and this upcoming match, be sure to check out the latest episode of Sounding Off on Soccer.