Saturday will mark the first time the Pittsburgh Panthers women’s basketball team sees action against an opponent that is not themselves, and they are excited to see how far they have come when they have a noon tip off against Lock Haven University.
Head coach Agnus Berenato has stated since media day that this team has improved in practice this year as opposed to where they were at a year ago. She believes every day has been an improvement but there is still work to be done.
“Every day we get a step further and I think our mindset is tougher,” Berenato said. “I don’t think we were very mentally strong and I think we’re getting stronger there every day. We’re not near where we need to be, but according to our planning, we’re probably right on target.
“We still have a lot to get put in, but we still have days to do that. We are really impressed with their efforts, have really ramped it up this week as far as conditioning and giving it all that they have and they have responded well.”
Sophomore guard Brianna Kiesel also sees improvement and believes that the team is clearer on what is needed to succeed.
“They’re going very well,” Kiesel said. “We have a lot of team chemistry and we’re playing very well together. Everyone knows their role and what they have to do.”
Today, Berenato named her three team captains and they are Kiesel, redshirt junior Abby Dowd and redshirt sophomore Loliya Briggs.
“There’s going to be great responsibility put on those three young ladies and I think they’ll handle the responsibility,” Berenato said. “They definitely are the most competitive kids on the team, really believe in Pitt and the staff. They’re team favorites also so that helps.”
Kiesel embraces her role as a team leader and knows that Berenato’s expectations of her are high.
“Last year coming in as a freshman I came in a little nervous and I wasn’t very vocal,” Kiesel said. “This year coming in as the floor general as ‘Coach B’ says I am, I’m a lot more vocal and I’m trying to get everyone moving in the right direction.”
The key word for this Panther team is chemistry. It was used throughout media day and will be a focal point. In their exhibition game against Lock Haven, Berenato who admits that she is “big into stats, numbers and patterns,” wants to see which players work well together.
In addition to the three captains, Berenato notes that the team is healthier than last season. Junior guard Asia Logan and sophomore forward Cora McManus are back after missing much of last season due to surgeries and that makes Berenato optimistic as she couples that with the growth and maturity of many of the returning players.
After last season’s disappointing record, Berenato admits that things were not as enjoyable as they had been in previous seasons.
“Our chemistry is so much better right now, we have great chemistry right now,” Berenato said. “I like the team, I love coaching, I love coming in every day and working hard. The laughter has been brought back into the practices and I’m always a huge believer that we’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to work hard and have fun and for a minute the fun was lost.”
You may ask why the fun was lost for Berenato, and the answer is simple: she’s a competitor.
“It’s no fun losing,” Berenato said. “As much as you try to make it a learning experience, we coached our butts off last year, probably the best coaching job we’ve ever done, I know personally. People will say, ‘how is that possible, you didn’t win a conference game?’ We coached our butts off, but boy I was miserable.
“We didn’t have great chemistry with the team and individually and I think that makes it really hard because you feel like you’re working so hard and being met with resistance. That’s gone now and it’s a whole new team this year and a whole new personnel. There’s been some transition of players. I like the kids and I want to be with them, laugh with them and joke with them. I guess I’m really not a good loser.”
Those two keys words of fun and chemistry will be put to the test starting Saturday against Lock Haven. Lock Haven is missing 77 percent of its scoring from last season and its team is similar to where this Panthers team was a season ago. It is a mostly young team, with just one senior to go with five of their most productive players no longer on the team. With the five losses, there are now five freshmen on their team. This kind of a team is a great opponent for the Panthers to play in an exhibition in order to get our feet wet.
Despite this perception, nothing is ever in the bag. Berenato is excited for the game but after seeing the Panthers men’s team play a largely disappointing game, she knows that the team, which has been practicing since October 1, always has the chance to underwhelm.
“It does make me a little nervous because I know we looked at the guy’s game last week and I was talking to one of their players today [Steven Adams] and he was talking about how practices were so great but that he had no idea what happened in the exhibition game,” Berenato said. “I’m talking to him and I’m thinking ‘Oh gosh could that happen to us.’ I hadn’t really thought about it but it’s a new year and I am so excited to play Lock Haven just to see where we are.”
Kiesel knows this is a possibility but knows that this season brings a new opportunity to succeed, something she is optimistic this Panthers team can do.
“We’ve matured a lot from last year,” Kiesel said. “We’re still really young and have a lot of growing to do, but I think we’ve made big steps since last year. We’re going in and it’s a start of a new season with new opportunities.”