Youth must serve Pitt women after another last-place season
Second-year Pitt women’s coach Suzie McConnell-Serio believes this season’s freshman class will be an important part of the Panthers’ future.
She will need them to make an impact on the team’s present, as well.
With three seniors gone, redshirt sophomore center Bubbles Anderson lost for the season with another knee injury and junior guard Brittany Gordon out until at least January recovering from shoulder surgery, the Panthers are going to need freshmen Yacine Diop, Stasha Carey and Aysia Bugg to play key minutes.
“The freshmen have come in and are helping raise the level of play,” McConnell-Serio said. “We’re not deep with numbers and injuries and everyone will be counted on and will make contributions.”
Point guard Brianna Kiesel and center Cora McManus are the team’s lone seniors. They are joined by sophomores Fred Potvin and Chelsea Welch as the Panthers’ only returning players who are healthy, and even Welch was slowed by a sprained ankle in the early weeks of practice.
The other two newcomers are graduate student Monica Wignot, who played volleyball at Pitt the past four years and has one year of eligibility remaining, and McConnell-Serio’s daughter, Jordan Serio, a pharmacy student at Pitt who joined the team to help add depth.
Diop, Carey and Wignot join Kiesel and Potvin in the starting five.
The Panthers were 11-20 last season and 3-13 in their first year in the ACC. McConnell-Serio and the coaching staff had a difficult task turning around a team that went winless in its final two seasons in the Big East, but she said they didn’t anticipate struggling as much as they did. The result was a greater focus during the offseason on skill development.
“I think the season was an eye opener for us,” she said. “Every day there’s a focus on skill development and becoming better shooters, better ball handlers, better passers and better overall at individual skills. We felt like we needed to get better across the board, and I think our players responded.”
That even goes for Kiesel, who has started all 90 games of her career and enters the season ranked 10th on Pitt’s all-time scoring list with 1,348 points. Because she is so good off the dribble, getting to the rim, using change of pace and direction and elevating the pull-up jumper so well, McConnell-Serio said, Kiesel hasn’t needed to rely on a 3-point shot. It was the one area they both identified for improvement heading into Kiesel’s senior year.
One person with whom Kiesel has been working is graduate student manager Alex Gensler, who became Duquesne’s all-time leader in 3-pointers with 238 under McConnell-Serio from 2009-12.
“She’s definitely been helping me work on the things I need to be consistent,” Kiesel said. “Staying confident is a big one, getting my feet straight, making sure I have a lot of arc on the shot and not shooting straightaway. It’s slowly but surely getting there.”
McManus has noticed a difference in practice.
“There are definitely less rebounds, which is nice,” she said. “Hurts my stat line, but that’s OK.”