Local Pitt athletes ready to test ACC waters
It's been 18 days since the University of Pittsburgh athletic department and its several men's and women's sports teams joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It ended almost two years of preparation since the ACC Council of Presidents unanimously voted to accept Pitt and Syracuse into the conference on Sept. 18, 2011.
All the figurative ducks now are in a row, and the first contests are a little more than a month a way.
Fans of Pitt athletics are getting excited for what each team can do as new members of the ACC, and that excitement extends to the athletes themselves.
Included in that group are several Plum and Gateway athletes who are hoping to make an impact in the Panthers' new home conference.
“We're going to continue to see great competition in the ACC,” said Plum graduate Richie Addison, a rising junior distance runner on the Pitt men's cross country and track and field teams.
“There will be no drop off from the Big East. We have to be ready to compete.”
Addison was the top distance runner for the Pitt men during the 2013 spring outdoor season. He claimed the top time on the team in both the 5,000 meters (14:56.80) and the 10,000 meters (31:23.26).
He knows that competition in cross country and track and field in the ACC again will be challenging, not just in the distance events but overall.
The 2012 ACC men's cross country title went to Virginia Tech, which captured its first team title in the history of the program by placing three runners in the top seven. Virginia and Florida State followed in second and third, respectively.
On the women's side, Florida State had five runners in the top 14 to claim the team title. Duke was second, and Boston College was third.
Addison will get his first taste of ACC competition overall when the Pitt men's cross country team battles it out at the 2013 ACC Championships on Nov. 1.
“When we found out that Pitt was moving to the ACC, I started following those (cross country and track and field) teams,” Addison said.
“The ACC is very deep in all sports, including cross country and track and field. There are a lot of running and sprinting powerhouses, and a lot of good teams for jumping and throwing, too. I can't wait to see how we and I stack up.”
Pitt baseball enjoyed one of the best spring seasons in school history. The Panthers finished 42-17 overall and 18-6 in the Big East and were ranked in all five major polls for the first time in school history.
The transition begins to the ACC, one of the toughest conferences for baseball in all of Division I.
That tradition continued this season as both N.C. State and North Carolina were two of the eight teams to punch tickets to Omaha for the College World Series.
Gateway graduate Stephen Vranka was a hitting star during his junior season with the Panthers, and he will return to form the core of the team in the 2013 season.
“Everybody is really excited because it will be such a big challenge,” he said.
“We're leaving the Big East with a lot of momentum after a record-breaking season. Things are moving in the right direction. We can't wait to go up against North Carolina, Florida State and some of the other top teams.
In all, eight ACC teams — North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech — qualified for the 64-team NCAA tournament.
The ACC ranked second in the number of entries to only the Southeastern Conference (nine).
“I think we will be up to the challenge,” Vranka said.
Plum grad Dom Pietropaolo, a rising redshirt junior, is looking for bigger things in the 2013-14 season as the Pitt wrestling team moves into the ACC.
He owns an 11-17 mark with two pins in two seasons at Pitt, including a 5-7 record in open tournaments at 149 pounds during the 2012-13 campaign.
Pitt wrestling leaves the Eastern Wrestling League, where it was a charter member with five other schools starting in 1976.
The EWL is an NCAA Division I wrestling-only conference made up of schools from the northeastern United States whose primary conferences do not sponsor wrestling as an NCAA-qualifying event.
That was the case with Pitt, as the Big East didn't sponsor wrestling.
The Panthers now will be the seventh member of the ACC for wrestling, joining defending champion Virginia Tech and 2011 and 2012 champion Maryland.
The other ACC wrestling schools are Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke.
Luke Nosbisch, a Gateway grad, returned to Pitt for his sophomore season after competing in the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., last summer.
In his final season in the Big East, Nosbisch scored several victories in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, the 200 medley relay and also fared well in the 1,000 free and the 400 IM.
He swam a career-best of 4:29.30 in the 500 free at the Pitt Invitational.
Nosbisch and his Panthers teammates will navigate the waters in the ACC, where the Virginia men's and women's teams dominated the conference again.
Both Cavaliers squads won their sixth consecutive ACC championship.
Brendon Felder knows about the ACC.
The Gateway graduate started his collegiate career at North Carolina before transferring to Pitt before the 2011 season, and the cornerback is hoping to make an impact for the Panthers in 2013 as a redshirt junior.
Jaymar Parrish, a recent graduate of Gateway, is preparing for his first football season at Pitt. He joins Felder in adding to a string of Gators graduates who have played for the Panthers, including Cam Saddler, Shayne Hale, Aaron Smith and Dan Loheyde.
The Pitt football team was 3-4 from 2003 to 2012 in games against teams that were members of the ACC at the time of the contests.
The Panthers matched up against Virginia three times from 2003 to 2007.
Pitt lost the 2003 Meineke CarCare Bowl to the Cavaliers, 23-16, but won the 2006 regular season opener, 38-13, at Heinz Field.
Virginia got the better of Pitt, 44-14, in Charlottesville in 2007.
The Panthers upended North Carolina, 19-17, in the 2009 Meineke CarCare Bowl for a happy ending to a season that was dented somewhat with the 45-44 heartbreaker to Cincinnati at Heinz Field with a BCS Bowl bid on the line.
Pitt fans are getting geared up for the first-ever ACC conference game on Labor Day night against Florida State. The game will be nationally televised on ABC in front of what is expected to be a sold out crowd.
Like Parrish, Carly Seneca is a recent Gateway graduate who comes to Pitt with a lot of accolades in her soccer portfolio.
In her four years as a starter and a lethal goal scorer for the Gators, Seneca was a three-time all-state selection and a four-time All-WPIAL honoree. She also earned All-Regional acclaim twice.
Seneca also has played in countless big tournaments for her Beadling cup soccer team and helped the team to six state titles during her 10 years with the club.
She hopes to make an impact with the Panthers women's soccer team in their first venture into the ACC.
North Carolina is the most successful women's soccer program in the history of the NCAA.
But in 2012, Virginia and Maryland played for the ACC title with Virginia upending Maryland in a matchup of squads ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The Lady Tar Heels, which have won 20 of the 22 ACC championships, would regroup and claim the 2012 national title with a win over Penn State in the championship game. It was North Carolina's 21st national championship since 1982.
Florida State made it to the Women's College Cup national semifinals, and nine ACC teams qualified for the 64-team tournament.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at email@example.com.