Pitt women set new standard
The atmosphere that 8,791 fans experienced Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center was not a one-time thing -- not if Pitt women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato has something to do with it.
Berenato wants to carry over the enthusiasm from the second-round Women's NCAA Tournament game in which No. 1 seed Tennessee ended No. 8 seed Pitt's record-setting season, 68-54.
"The people of Pittsburgh really supported us in this tournament," Berenato said. "The crowd was electric and what I dream about. I wasn't able to thank them after the game, because we had to get off the floor (for the next game). We want to have that kind of crowd next season, because we will have an explosive team next year."
Berenato said she expects nothing less than an NCAA Tournament appearance and, at minimum, one postseason victory next season.
"The bar has been set," she said.
Berenato will have the talent to return Pitt to the postseason. In addition to four returning starters, the Panthers welcome four freshmen, including WPIAL stars Shayla Scott from Gateway and Ashley Henderson from Greensburg Central Catholic.
Sophomore guard/forward Sophronia Sallard, who came to Pitt from Kansas and sat out this season because of the NCAA Division I transfer rule, will be eligible. Berenato also is hopeful for a sixth season for point guard Mallorie Winn, who missed this year with a knee injury. Winn is awaiting word from the NCAA on her eligibility.
Pitt returns junior guard Karlyle Lim and freshmen guard Ashleigh Braxton and center Selena Nwude. Nwude had surgery Wednesday to repair a torn knee ligament. Danielle Taylor was the lone senior on this year's team.
"The kids will work hard and get bigger and stronger, because they realize the competitiveness of where we want to go," Berenato said. "We want to be one of the top teams in the nation and on a national forefront every year. They got a taste of that this year and will be hungrier next year."
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose teams have played the best competition and in front of large crowds, commended Pitt on its team and its fans.
"We knew it was not going to be easy to defeat Pitt on its home court," Summitt said. "They had a good, vocal crowd, and the television exposure gave a national audience a chance to see what Agnus is doing at Pitt. She is one of the respected coaches in the profession. People are recognizing what she has done with this program and will continue to recognize what she has done."
Continuing to be recognized is one of Berenato's goals.
"This is a magical, magical group of young ladies," Berenato said. "Seasons come and go, but the memories you make last forever, like the games on Sunday and Tuesday. And we want to continue to create great memories for our fans for years to come."