The Pitt Panther women’s soccer team ended 2020 on the highest of highs: a 4-1 thumping of Kentucky that broke the school wins record.
The Panthers allowed just 1.1 goals per game – down from 1.7 a year before. Pittsburgh posted six clean sheets in its 11 wins.
Junior center back Mackenzie Edwards is a big reason why the Pitt defense gave its opponents plenty of nuthin’ last fall.
“Our big thing is to limit the amount of corners we give up because that means less chances for the opponent scoring,” Edwards explained. “And tackling, to make sure no other shots come off outside of the 18-yard box. We always have small accomplishments that we want to achieve within each game as a team and even as a defensive four.”
Pitt improved from 5-10-3 in 2019 to 11-5 in 2020. Last Oct. 1, Virginia needed overtime to top Pitt 2-1 in Charlottesville. The game proved the Panthers could play with anyone as Virginia ultimately advanced all the way to the NCAA Final Four during the spring season.
When Edwards’ crew beat Boston College 2-1 in October 2019, it both avenged a 7-0 loss from the prior year and snapped an ugly 27 match ACC non-winning streak. Pitt soccer was starting a sea change.
“This year, they had the confidence to feel like they could compete with anybody,” noted Pitt head coach Randy Waldrum. “The UVa game was a good example.”
“In my freshman year, 19 of us came in that were brand new. Throughout my freshman to sophomore year, we grew as a family and grew into a family,” Edwards feels. “From the offensive line through the goalie, we knew that we all had each other’s backs and that just grew throughout time.”
“Continuing to get better players, Mackenzie’s group having a year under their belt, and the overall confidence and chemistry of the team all contributed to the successful season we had this past fall,” believes Waldrum, who won two national titles as head coach of Notre Dame.
Edwards, a CB South Titan, understands her role. She likely won’t light up a box score but in her first two years at Pitt, she led or co-led the team in minutes played.
“It was difficult coming in,” Edwards admitted. “I think physically I wasn’t as ready as I should have been however, the people around me made it so much easier. I knew I had to work on getting more fit. Sophomore year came around and I was 10 levels up in the fitness test.”
“That is something that, as a coach, you’re always proud of,” Waldrum praised. “You always say ‘Control those things that you can.’ You can always spend extra time with the ball to get better with your skills and spend time with your fitness level. Those are things the student-athlete can control and she really took that on. She made a huge stride from freshman year to sophomore year.”
“Each day, you just get better,” Edwards continued. “Between the coaches, the athletic trainers, the strength coaches … we even have a personal nutritionist. You grow strong relationships with them and they help you individually. I will forever be grateful for that.”
Edwards verballed to Pitt in her sophomore year. “I was a big family person. Not that I was a stay-at-home person, but I always wanted to stay close. I looked at (Big Five) schools because they were an hour from home,” Edwards recalled. “Being five hours away …honestly, I thought it was going to be a lot worse but it ended up being just fine. I adapted to it.
“I think my mom might say otherwise!” Edwards laughed. “And ACC play … you can’t get better than that.”
Waldrum was not Pitt’s coach when Edwards verballed, yet Edwards impressed his staff. “The thing that caught our eye was her technical ability with the ball,” Waldrum explained. “She had a solid foundation with her skill set. The other thing we liked about her was her versatility.”
Edwards was just a freshman but she made a huge impression in the Titans’ special 2015 postseason.
Sneaking into districts as the 24th and final seed, South trailed Downingtown East 1-0 in the first round. “Betsy (Bullock) brought me up to varsity at the end of the year. I was on JV the first half of the season. Another freshman – (Tampa’s) Brooke Steigerwalt who is one of my best friends – scored our first goal,” Edwards remembered. “It was 1-1 and I end up getting the winning goal.
“It was so exciting,” she continued. “Betsy was a great coach and she was very supportive. When I look back, the only two freshmen scoring those goals, winning and advancing was a great feeling.”
After stunning No. 2 Pennsbury in playbacks, South clinched the final spot in PIAAs with a 1-0 double overtime win over WC Henderson. The next season, Edwards and South advanced to the PIAA final.
“I actually came into Pitt as an attacking mid,” Edwards explained. “I never played center back in my life. We had a scrimmage with Delaware and they needed a center back. I went in there and I must have played well.” Edwards has been entrenched into the defensive back four ever since.
“Even though Mackenzie could have come in, played midfield for us and done really well,” Waldrum added, “she was the one, we felt, who could slot into the backline. She may have felt differently, but from the coaching staff, it felt like a really natural change.”
“The biggest thing were my teammates,” Edwards credited. “They all helped me, whether it was communication or you were feeling down, you knew that they were there for you.”
Edwards feels that this preseason, coming off a banner 2020 “definitely” feels different, as the Panthers prep for their Aug. 19 opener versus Tulsa. “She reads the game really well,” Waldrum concluded, “and we’ve been real pleased with her progress over the first two seasons.”