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Panthers roar at Mon Valley Chapter event

Rich Downer / For The Valley Independent
Seated, from the left, are Pitt football coach Paul Chryst, Athletic Director Steve Pederson, women's basketball coach Suzier McConnell-Serio and men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon. They were featured guests at the Mon Valley Chapter of the Panther Club's spring meet and greet at the Willow Room. Staning in the back are the Mon Valley chapter's vice president, John Zunic (left), and president Dr. Randy Rodriguez.

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By Donnie Tasser
Friday, May 2, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

The University of Pittsburgh athletic department was out in full force at the Willow Room Thursday for the Mon Valley Chapter of the Panther Club's “A Night with the Panthers.”

The evening featured appearances by men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, football coach Paul Chryst, women's basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio and Athletic Director Steve Pederson.

All four spoke to the 50 or so people in attendance.

“Another successful event,” Mon Valley Panther Club President Dr. Randy Rodriguez said of the affair. “It's a little bit smaller than in years past, but I would certainly call it another successful event.

“There are a lot of people I have never seen before, which hopefully means our chapter is expanding a bit, and of course we had some heavy hitters show up to speak like in most years.”

While the event was smaller than in past years, Rodriguez contends it benefits the dinner and gives the guests an opportunity to mingle with the university's coaches and staff members who come. Only a portion of the Willow Room was opened and there was no raised seating dais for the coaches, all of whom were part of past events.

“To be honest, the room could have been opened up and spread out like last year, but this is a more intimate setting,” Rodriguez said. “The format changed a few years ago when they removed the dais and it has been steadily shrinking the size of the event. We used to get 125, 150 people for this banquet. But this way, people have a better opportunity to meet and mingle, which I think everybody likes.

“It's two hours, a lot more casual and people can come and go when they want.”

Dixon spoke first and touched on the importance of academics and how Pitt seeks true student-athletes. He also mentioned the news that the Panther basketball squad will face Indiana in their season opener as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Chryst, Pederson and McConnell-Serio followed up. Each said their first event after being introduced as Panther head coaches was the Mon Vally Chapter's event.

“We are one of the only chapters that has the banquet by itself,” Rodriguez said. “Most of the other ones have the dinner after the golf outing, where ours is separate. So its special. These coaches get their first introduction to the fan base and some of the donors and we're proud that we get to give off the first impression much of the time.”

Three people with major Mon Valley and Pitt Athletic Department ties were also present; head athletic trainer Tony Salesi, a Frazier graduate; Executive Associate Athletic Director Donna Sanft, a Monessen graduate; and retired wrestling coach Rande Stottlemyer, who resides in Charleroi.

“We had all of the heavy hitters come tonight,” Rodriguez said. “And not only them, we had a lot of other Pitt coaches and administration show up, too.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.

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