As we kick off the new year, it's time to look back at 2013 and recount the top five moments in Pitt sports. As every year does, this one had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, 2013 was a pretty good year to be a Pitt Panther. Let's begin the countdown.
5. Baseball wins a school-record 42 games
2013 was a banner year for Pitt baseball as the team put together one of the best seasons in school history in its final Big East campaign. Led by juniors Casey Roche, Ethan Mildren, Matt Wotherspoon, and sophomore Elvin Soto, the Panthers cruised to a school-record 42 wins and rose as high as 16th in the national rankings, the highest ranking in school history. Manager Joe Jordano won Big East Manager of the Year and eight players earned All-Big East honors. The club failed to make the NCAA tournament due to some bad early season losses and a season-ending sweep by Louisville, but 2013 was without a doubt, a phenomenal year for Pitt baseball.
4. Suzie McConnell-Serio hired as women's basketball head coach
After failing to win a conference game for two straight years, well-respected head coach Agnus Berenato was relieved of her duties by Pitt in early April. AD Steve Pederson then pulled off a major coup as he quickly landed women's basketball legend Suzie McConnell-Serio. A Pittsburgh native, Penn State All-American, and Olympic gold medalist, McConnell-Serio had previously been the head coach at Duquesne from 2007-2013 and the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx from 2003-2006. She went 123-68 overall in her time with the Dukes and also won the WNBA's Coach of the Year award in 2004. This was a huge hiring for the program and really, Pederson couldn't have hit more of a home run.
3. Jamie Dixon & Co. return to NCAA Tournament
Jamie Dixon's squad sprang back to form and crushed any lingering 2012 doubts by returning to the Big Dance in 2013. With senior Tray Woodall and celebrated freshman Steven Adams leading the way, the Panthers posted a 24-7 regular season record which landed them an eighth seed in the tournament. Yes, the seeding was questionable and yes, the team dropped its first round game to Wichita State in ugly fashion. But, Pitt was a March Madness participant once again. And of course, Adams went on to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.
2. Aaron Donald becomes the nation's most decorated defensive player
Aaron Donald became a legend in 2013. The senior defensive tackle had a season for the ages (literally) and won enough awards to become the most decorated player in the history of Pitt football. Just think about that. After leading the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game) and recording 26.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Donald was recognized as the best defender in all of college football by winning the Nagurski Award, the Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy, and the Bednarik Award. He also became Pitt's first unanimous All-American since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. I'm not sure it's fully sunk in with me how good of a year Donald actually had, but I have no doubt his legend will only grow over time. Hell, his number might even hang on the Heinz Field rotundas one day. I know I'll remember 2013 as the 'Year of Aaron Donald'.
1. The University of Pittsburgh enters the ACC
On July 1, 2013, the date all of us had eagerly anticipated for two years finally arrived: Pitt became an official member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. There are few events which spectacularly stand out in the history of a school. Sure, teams win championships, great coaches are hired, new facilities are built etc. etc. But a move like this - which impacts the fortunes and stature of not only athletics, but the entire University, is truly special. A new chapter in University of Pittsburgh history began in 2013 and that's why this is unequivocally the top headline of 2013.
And now, time to close the door for 2013 and open a new, exciting, promising door for 2014. Here's to a happy, healthy, and successful new year for all of us. Always and forever, Hail to Pitt.