Pitt Fall Sports Preview
By Cale Berger
Pitt’s Fall Sports Media Day officially marks the beginning of the year for Panther athletics, an opportunity to find out what storylines can come from the sports that may not always make the headlines. This year was no different, as the volleyball, cross country, and men’s and women’s soccer teams met with members of the media at the Petersen Events Center to preview their upcoming seasons.
The men’s soccer team got things started on Wednesday, represented by senior Javi Perez, sophomore Edward Kizza, and head coach Jay Vidovich. After an 8-10 season in 2017 that saw them earn victories over #7 Notre Dame, #13 Columbia, and others, the team has high hopes for their third campaign under Vidovich.
“We are on a mission to win games and win trophies,” Vidovich said.
Perez says that their 7-0 victory over rival West Virginia last season gave them confidence that will help them going forward.
“For sure that was a good moment for us,” he said. “We want to keep that level this year.”
While they will always have a grueling schedule playing in the ACC, the Panthers are excited about the opportunity this season provides. They return nine letterwinners from last season, but they also welcome 12 newcomers that will provide a youthful energy that Vidovich noted. With their experience last season, the men’s soccer team looks eager to build on the foundation they’ve begun to lay.
As the men’s soccer program at Pitt is on the rise, the women’s program is starting from scratch. Pitt hired Randy Waldrum as their fourth coach in program history on December 19th, 2017. Waldrum’s resume is impressive, with two national championships, two national coach of the year awards, and the fourth most wins all-time for a women’s head coach.
Waldrum has clearly had success throughout his career, and he hopes to continue that at Pitt.
“We’ve got a lot of room where we can grow this year,” he said. “I’m excited about that opportunity.”
He also acknowledged the growing soccer community in Pittsburgh, and how he wants to make Pitt women’s soccer a larger part of that.
“We’ve got a great soccer community in Pittsburgh,” he said. “We want to be connected to that community.”
Senior Taylor Price can already see the positive changes Waldrum has made to the program.
“I think we have a culture now for Pitt soccer for years to come,” she said.
Pitt women’s soccer seems to have a bright future behind Waldrum, but it will take time. This is still a team that failed to win a game in conference last season. Still, with Waldrum’s pedigree and reputation, this program now has the leadership to get turned around.
Pitt cross country was also present on Wednesday, and appears to be primed for another grueling season of distance running. Led by head coach Alonzo Webb in his 17th season, the team is attempting to build off of the success they experienced last season on both the men’s and women’s sides. Last year, the women’s team earned their best NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional finish in school history, while the men’s team earned their best NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional finish in 11 years.
The team is also largely homegrown, with a plethora of athletes coming from right around the Pittsburgh area. Senior Makenzie Zeh ran in high school at Oakland Catholic, and Pitt’s top finisher at the 2018 ACC Championships, Junior Nick Wolk, comes from Peters Township.
For Wolk, running for his hometown university is the best situation he could have asked for.
“It’s a dream come true, honestly,” he said.
With five meets in the state of Pennsylvania, look for Pitt cross country to utilize that familiarity and home field advantage in pursuit of a fine season.
The real stars of Fall Media Day were Pitt volleyball, who at the moment, are the best program the university currently has to offer. Led by head coach Dan Fisher, the team achieved its first ACC Championship and secured back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 2003-2004 last season.
Fisher was rewarded with a five-year contract extension that will keep him at Pitt through the 2022 season.
“I am happy that we were able to come to an agreement,” he said.
Expectations for the program expand well beyond the University of Pittsburgh, as the Panthers were picked to finish first in the ACC Preseason Coaches Poll and are currently ranked #20 in the nation to start the year.
Senior Kamalani Akeo feels that they will have no trouble handling the lofty expectations.
“Every day there are new challenges and we expect them,” she said. “There’s no way that we would be where we are if we didn’t bond as a team.”
Fisher likes the attention his team is receiving, but he still wants them to keep things in perspective.
“We don’t expect to beat everyone just because we show up,” he said. “I like it in terms of getting people excited. We haven’t proven anything yet.”
The volleyball team seems excited for the season and ready to exceed expectations.