The Pitt Panthers women’s basketball team had the youngest team in the league last season and had just eight wins to show for their efforts.
Now with a year under their belts, head coach Agnes Berenato hopes the team can compete in their last season as members of the Big East.
“Last year we had the youngest team in the nation out of over 350 teams,” Berenato said. “To be the youngest is kind of daunting. Stacey (in Pitt media relations) just told me that we’re probably going to be in the top five youngest again, but I’m really excited because we’re a year older.”
Berenato also said that the team is making great strides despite just being in seven days. Unlike the men’s team, the team was not allowed to practice during the summer. Still Berenato notes that in seven days of practice thus far, the team is better than they were in practice seven last season.
The season the Panthers will return nine of their players from last year’s roster including sophomore Brianna Kiesel. Kiesel led the team last season with 13.6 points per game and her 89 assists also were tops on the team.
“I have Bri (Kiesel) back, and she is playing that way,” Berenato said, “Last year she didn’t know if she was coming or going. This year though, I have said to her many times, ‘This is your team. It’s not my team, it’s not Pitt’s team, it’s not the community’s team, it’s not Ashlee’s team or Abby’s team, but Bri, this is your team. You’re the coach on the court.’ And I think Bri is really excited about that.”
Kiesel is aware of her role in the team this year, something which troubled her last year because of nerves.
“I feel a lot more confident this last year, coming in last year and having a big role on the team I was nervous and excited,” Kiesel said. “This year those nerves have gone away and I am more confident in myself and my team.”
Also on the team is redshirt junior Ashlee Anderson. Anderson averaged 10.6 points per game and her 72.6 percent free throw shooting percentage was second on the team. Berenato is happy to have Anderson back on the team.
“She is, without a doubt, our most veteran player and is a redshirt junior,” Berenato said. “Ashlee’s played the most minutes out of everybody. She knows great things are expected of her, but she’s put the time in and she’s just really playing athletic and smart.”
Last season the Panthers could not win in conference play, going 0-16 against Big East opponents. Anderson knows that with the switch to the ACC next season, the Panthers can right their wrongs this season, and that this is their last chance to accomplish that.
“This is our last season in the Big East and we can take it as we have to prove ourselves on the court,” Anderson said. “We want to leave our mark on the conference and to play every game with confidence.”
Another returnee is redshirt junior Abby Dowd. Dowd provided instant offense leading the team with 35 3-pointers made and a 3-point shooting percentage of 31.0.
Dowd transferred from Buffalo and after a while realized that she missed basketball. Dowd approached Berenato asking her to be a practice player. This however was not possible as NCAA rules said it was forbidden to have female practice players. Thus Dowd is just one of two walk-on players Berenato has ever given a scholarship to.
Much like Kiesel, Dowd knows the role she has and it seems as though things are much clearer for her.
“Coming in and not necessarily knowing what your role is going to be – and what is expected of you is definitely a factor as how you play as a team,” Dowd said. “This year, I feel like everyone is very is very confident and steadfast in their role on the team and they know what is expected of them. I feel as if when we are running sets, it definitely feels a lot more fluid than this time last year. The chemistry looks a lot better and feels fluid as a player which in turn makes it easier for this year’s freshmen to adapt and get into the system. We are very optimistic for the season.”
The first exhibition for the Panthers will be Saturday, Nov. 3 against Lock Haven with the tip-off set for noon. They will start their season Friday, Nov. 9 against Youngstown State. The game is a school day and will start at 11 a.m. The time is meant to be early, so schools can take children to the game.