The Pitt women’s soccer team is set to open up conference play against No. 23 Wake Forest on Friday night, and historically, this has been a troublesome point in the season, as the team has yet to post a winning conference record since joining the ACC in 2013.
They initially looked to be inching forward, earning zero conference wins in their first ACC season, two wins in 2014 and then four in 2015. However, they regressed in 2016, tallying just one win. Now, they’ll once again look to prove they belong in a conference that currently accounts for 24 percent of the teams in the Top 25, including two top-five teams.
Their first opportunity to do so will come against a ranked opponent on the road, and that doesn’t bode well for the Panthers, as they’re coming off of a 3-0 loss at No. 22 Nebraska on Sunday. It was the latest disappointing defeat in a three-game skid for the Panthers, which followed a five-game unbeaten streak to open the season.
The Demon Deacons went one better and started their season with a five-game winning streak, which included a 3-2 win over a No. 3 South Carolina team that won 21 games last season. However, they’ve struggled in two of their last three games, getting shut out by Princeton at home and recording a scoreless draw with Michigan.
Although it’s a minor slump, one would imagine that lag in scoring might crack the door open for a Pitt win or tie against an otherwise tough squad, but the Panthers were unable to take advantage of a vulnerable Nebraska team that had lost two of its previous three before Sunday’s game. So even against a struggling opponent, Pitt will need to play its best to get a positive result.
For that to happen, striker Taylor Pryce will need to show up in a more significant way than she has over Pitt’s last three games. She’s proved vital to the team’s success this season, and unsurprisingly, Pitt’s losing streak has coincided with a decline in her play.
The Panthers’ last win came against Detroit on Aug. 30, when Pryce recorded five shots (all of which were on target), one goal and one assist. Their slump began against Illinois State in their next game, which was the first time Pryce failed to put a shot on goal. The result was a 1-0 loss.
Pryce’s struggles continued against Kent State and Nebraska, and Pitt was shut out in both of those contests. However, she did show improvement against the Cornhuskers, getting off two accurate shots. That’s a positive sign for the Panthers heading into this ACC matchup, as Pryce was instrumental in their last win over Wake Forest in 2015.
In that game, Pitt emerged victorious with a 2-1 win in overtime, and Pryce accounted for four of the team’s 11 shots, putting three on goal. She also scored the game-winner with nine seconds left in overtime, gathering her own deflection and knocking it past goalkeeper Lindsay Preston, who will be back in goal for the Demon Deacons this time around.
The Panthers will need Pryce to be aggressive in this game if they want to leave Winston-Salem with a win. While her improved shooting accuracy against Nebraska was a step in the right direction, she’ll need to up the volume of her shots as well to pressure Preston and create chances for her teammates on deflections.
After this, the schedule only gets tougher for the Panthers, as they will face No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Virginia on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, respectively. So they’ll need to make games like this count to come out of their ACC schedule with a winning record.