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Pitt Women’s Soccer Defeats Memphis to Make First Elite Eight

Pitt women's soccer celebrates Sweet 16 win over Memphis

Pitt women’s soccer put on a beautiful performance in the second half, scoring three goals en route to a 3-0 victory over No. 6 Memphis in the Sweet 16 to make the first Elite Eight in program history.

The Panthers (17-5-1) defeat the Tigers (20-2) in the first match between the two programs. It also serves as the first loss for the Tigers since a 2-1 defeat to the then ranked No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide on the road in the fourth match of the season on Aug. 27.

Both teams fought in the first half for the opening goal and each had some great chances, with Memphis having nine shots to Pitt’s five.

One of the best opportunities for Pitt came in the 15th minute as junior midfielder Ellie Coffield shot on goal and junior forward Samiah Phiri almost got her back heel on the ball for a likely goal.

Pitt would open the scoring in the 52nd minute off of a corner. Junior forward Sarah Schupansky put a ball into the box and Coffield headed it down to fellow junior midfielder Keera Melenhorst. Melenhorst would control it with her chest and kick it over her head to give her team the lead.

Melenhorst came into this weekend scoring just one career goal in 61 matches, but with this goal and another against No. 2 Arkansas on Friday, she has doubled her career total when Pitt needs it most in their biggest matches of the season.

“It means a lot,” Melenhorst said on her goal-scoring form . “I’ve worked hard for this all season and to have it come into fruition now has been great when the team needs it most and I want to contribute and continue to contribute moving forward in this [NCAA] Tournament.”

The Tigers almost leveled the score in the 60th minute as a cross deflected to first-year forward Anna Hauer, who took a shot on right in front of goal. Panthers sophomore goalkeeper Ellie Breech made a great save with her right foot to keep it out and keep her team in front.

Memphis first-year midfielder Finley Lavin would make a crucial mistake in the 75th minute, as she picked the ball up from a throw-in before it went out of bounds, which the referee correctly called a hand ball and gave Pitt a free-kick. After Memphis initially headed the ball away, Schupansky passed it to Phiri, who ran to the end line and crossed it to the center of the box. First-year midfielder Deborah Abiodun, perfectly positioned, hit the cross with the inside of her right foot and past the keeper to double Pitt’s lead.

The Panthers would finish off the match with another goal in the 88th minute. Coffield took a free-kick that hit just under the crossbar, but first-year forward Aliya Gomes got it before her defender and headed it back in the net for her first goal as a Panther.

Pitt women’s soccer coach Randy Waldrum was confident going into this match against a Memphis team on 17-match winning streak. He understands the attacking prowess his players possess and is even more pleased with players like Melenhorst getting in on the goals, showing that everyone on his team can score if needed.

“I felt like coming in we could get the result and I felt like we could score a couple of goals on them,” Waldrum said post-match . “I know they’ve been really good defensively all year, but I just like our team and I like our team offensively and we got some goals from some players, like Keera. Everybody would look at Schupansky or [Amanda] West or somebody getting it and Keera came in with a goal and of course Aliya Gomes came off the bench and got a goal. So it’s great to see and I’m so proud of this group.”

Waldrum also pointed to the wins over Arkansas in the Second Round and the 6-0 drubbing of Ohio State in the First Round as examples of not just the talent his team possesses, but also the execution in important moments as well. Regardless of the lack of respect from the polls and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, who awarded Pitt with a No. 7 seed, dropping three seeds from last season despite a better record, Waldrum and his team know that winning is all that matters and they’ve shown it in the postseason so far.

“I think a lot of people haven’t given us a lot of credit throughout the year and one thing I think we kind of stayed true to is, we know where we are, we know what we have, we know where we’re good at, we know what we need to work on and we know what we need to be better at,” Waldrum said. “But I think from national rankings all year to seeding to everything else, I think we’ve not really garnered  and I think one of the things we’ve talked about is let’s just not worry about that and just play and it’ll all sort itself out in the end. These players have been true professionals in handling things that way.”

Pitt women’s soccer will face No. 1 Florida State in the quarterfinals in Tallahassee either on Friday, Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. Pitt has lost their two matchups to Florida State this season in a 3-2 loss on the road on Oct. 19 and 2-0 in the ACC Semifinals in Cary, N.C. on Nov. 2.

If the Panthers manage to defeat the Seminoles for the first time, they would either face rival in the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions or ACC foe in the No. 1 Clemson Tigers in the College Cup. The Tigers defeated the Panthers this season at home, 1-0 on Oct. 22.

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