2021 Panthers’ Choice Awards

Here is a quick piece about our Pitt Student/Athletes achievements over the past year. As we have been talking a lot about the minor or smaller sports programs at Pitt and the pleasure they have given us – let’s not forget all the other players, scholars, coaches and others at Pitt who work so very hard to give us, their teammates and fellow students an enjoyable time to be a Pitt fan…

Link: Panthers’ Choice Awards

Pitt Athletics Announces Winners from 2021 Panthers’ Choice Awards

Varsity Walk Additions Highlight Annual Ceremony

PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh Department of Athletics hosted the fourth annual Panthers’ Choice Awards Sunday evening with a virtual celebration of student-athlete achievements in academics, athletics and citizenship made during the 2019-20 academic year.

The Panthers’ Choice Awards honor Pitt’s top athletic performances, community service participation as well as the top teams in terms of both athletic and academic accomplishment.

Presenters were highlighted by 1948 Olympic medalist and American living legend Herb Douglas, who announced the Heart of a Panther Award to gymnastics’ Olivia Miller.
Additionally, the prestigious Panther Awards and Blue-Gold Awards were presented during the program. The names of the recipients are forever recognized on Pitt’s Varsity Walk between the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel, in a tradition that dates back to 1950.

Football’s Jimmy MorrisseyPatrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver, volleyball’s Kayla Lund and Chinaza Ndee and wrestling’s Jake Wentzel will each have their names engraved on the prestigious Varsity Walk, ensuring their status as legends in Pitt Athletics history.
Below is a full list of awards presented Sunday.
Top Overall Academic Teams of the Year

  • Reserved for the male and female team with the highest cumulative GPA for the spring and fall semesters of 2020.
  • Winners: Men’s Cross Country and Volleyball

 Bridge Builder Award

  • Presented to the team whose student-athletes demonstrate the strongest commitment to making an impact in the community.
  • Winners: Gymnastics and Women’s Lacrosse

 Heart of a Panther Award

  • Presented to the student-athlete who best embodies the spirit of service through the Pitt Promise and is involved in the community above and beyond what is required.
  • Winner: Olivia Miller (Gymnastics)

 Gold Standard Teammates of the Year

  • Presented to the student-athlete who most effectively inspires his or her team through exemplary commitment, composure and integrity.
  • Baseball: Nico Samarkos
  • Men’s Basketball: Nike Sibande
  • Women’s Basketball: Gabbie Green
  • Men’s Cross Country: Josh Higgins
  • Women’s Cross Country: Ally Brunton
  • Football: David Green
  • Gymnastics: Katrina Coca
  • Women’s Lacrosse: Therese Pittman
  • Men’s Soccer: Valentin Noel
  • Women’s Soccer: Celia Lopez
  • Softball: Morgan Batesole
  • Men’s Swimming & Diving: Judd Fishman
  • Women’s Swimming & Diving: Kathleen Lynch
  • Men’s Track & Field: Ade Jones-Roundtree
  • Women’s Track & Field: Abena Atuobi
  • Volleyball: Kylee Levers
  • Wrestling: Jake Wentzel
  • Cheer: Matthew Nolan
  • Dance: Teegan Zeh

Gold Standard Administrator of the Year

  • Presented to a non-coaching staff member(s) of the athletic department who has gone above and beyond to ensure success and development of the student-athletes.
  • Winner: Pitt’s Sports Medicine Team for all their hard work during COVID-19

James Conner Comeback of the Year

  • Presented to a student-athlete who, having recovered from an injury, illness or hardship, returns to make a noteworthy contribution to their teams’ athletic success.
  • Winner: Rashad Weaver (Football)

 David Sandberg Champion Award

  • In memory of the former Pitt wrestler and assistant coach, this award is presented to the senior who best exemplifies the qualities that Sandberg embraced: dedication to academic and athletic excellence, with an unyielding spirit and passionate commitment to the improvement of the University of Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities.
  • Winner: David Yanni (Baseball)

 Male and Female Performance of the Year

  • Presented to a male and female student-athlete for the most remarkable or significant performance achieved in 2020-21.
  • Winners: Nino Bonaccorsi and Jake Wentzel (Wrestling) and Kayla Lund (Volleyball)

 Newcomer of the Year

  • Presented to the student-athlete who has made an immediate impact at Pitt in their first year of intercollegiate competition. Nominees may include freshmen and redshirts.
  • Winners: Valeria Vazquez Gomez (Volleyball) and Filip Mirkovic (Men’s Soccer)

 Team Moment of the Year

  • Presented in recognition of a striking performance by an individual or group in a specific competition that led to a shift in momentum.
  • Winner: Men’s Soccer first ACC Championship appearance in program history

 Male and Female Athlete of the Year

  • Presented to a male and female standout student-athlete who has demonstrated outstanding athletic performance during competition and has been instrumental to their teams’ success.
  • Winners: Blaise Vera (Men’s Swimming & Diving) and Amanda West (Women’s Soccer)

 Team of the Year

  • Reserved for the team that exemplified outstanding athletic achievement in the 2020-21 season.
  • Winner: Men’s Soccer

 Blue-Gold Award

  • Presented to the male and female senior student-athlete who best represents the student-athlete “ideal” based on academic scholarship, athletic achievement, leadership qualities and citizenship. These recipients will be forever recognized on the Varsity Walk.
  • Winners: Chinaza Ndee (Volleyball) and Jimmy Morrissey (Football), Jake Wentzel (Wrestling)

 Panther Award

  • Presented to the male and female senior student-athlete who has promoted Pittsburgh Athletics through his or her outstanding athletic achievement. These recipients will be forever recognized on the Varsity Walk.
  • Winners: Kayla Lund (Volleyball) and Rashad Weaver (Football), Patrick Jones II (Football)

Carson Graduate Fellowship Full Award

  • Stewarded to the best candidate who is of high moral character and has shown outstanding undergraduate academic achievement at the University of Pittsburgh, who demonstrates the potential for outstanding graduate study in continuing their graduate or professional education at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Winner: Monica McNeil (Women’s Track & Field)

Script Writer Award

  • Recognizes a student-athlete who best embraces Pitt Athletics’ seven bridges achieving comprehensive excellence within the classroom, on the field/court of play, within our University community, and within the city of Pittsburgh.
  • Winner: Monica McNeil (Women’s Track & Field)

35 thoughts on “2021 Panthers’ Choice Awards

  1. I love reading these awards articles. Much too often I hear and read Pitt fans denigrating our student/athletes as, basically, pretending to be students. This happens all the time especially with the football and basketball (men’s) teams.

    I can’t speaker for the BB players but I can say, without any hesitation at all, that in my years of holding media passes and spending time, and conversing with, our FB student/athletes I’ve found that those cynical Pitt fans have no idea what really goes on with the players, coaches, athletic staff and parents in getting the kids a good education and a degree while the players are also dealing with the demands of being a successful D1/P5 athlete.

    Are all athletes good and dedicated students also? No, as we see when the negative news stories break about a player’s transgressions…but they are in the small minority of our student/athletes.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Well said Reed. Pitt’s student athlete life skills program is outstanding thanks to the Pelusi family and staff.


  2. H2P and all the award winners. However, I am disappointed that I did not receive a “POV Commentator” award for all my insightful posts on the POV.


    1. Pitt has its own nightmare in Narduzzi for six years running now. At least West Virginia’s nightmare was only one 13-9 game.

      I do not recommend anyone watching that if they want to sleep peacefully tonight.


  3. I would like to point out that the volleyball team was the female Top Overall Academic Team of the Year! Congratulations also goes out to the top men’s team, Men’s Cross Country! They also now have a home course for meets.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Special congrats to the two footballers, two volleyballers and wrestler who will have their names added to the Varsity Walk.

    Quite an achievement and quite an honor.

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The varsity walk is a very nice thing that Pitt does.

      Tex – who will have his name on a piss trough one day at Pitts On campus MPC


  5. It’s real easy to root for a coach that’s smart.

    It’s real easy to root for the underdog.

    It’s real easy to root for a bunch of scholar athletes.

    It’s real easy to root for a sport you’ve played or coached

    It’s real easy to root for a winner

    It’s not easy being a fan of football or basketball.

    Those programs need to be held to the same standard as wrestling, soccer and volleyball.

    Baseball is living up to that standard

    Why can’t Narduzzi and Capel?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yet pitt football and basketball are trash.


  7. Congratulations to those who made the Varsity Walk. Tremendous honor.

    And kudos to our Women’s Volleyball team. Can Dan Fisher coach any other sports?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In house congratulations and non-revenue sports are great reasons to celebrate for all of us Pitt fans. The bigger picture, however, involves revenue from football and basketball. Pitt and the ACC have fallen way behind:
    Penn State, West Virginia dwarf Pitt, ACC revenue

    ESPN has a feature article (https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/31114147/new-acc-commissioner-jim-phillips-faces-big-challenges-easy-answerson) the financial challenges facing new ACC commissioner Jim Phillips. When four power conferences are beating your conference in annual revenue distribution per member, your conference is in trouble. Pat Narduzzi may not be alarmed but other ACC football coaches are.
    West Virginia will earn $37 million in revenue distribution from the Big Twelve, which ranks third in the Power Five hierarchy. Andrea Adelson and David Hale put it this way:
    “The SEC and Big Ten remain the dominant financial forces in college football. From TV deals, merchandising, league championship games and bowl revenue, the two conferences sent member schools about $45 million and $54 million, respectively, in 2018-19 (the last year for which data is publicly available). The ACC, meanwhile, distributed at least $27 million to each school that year.”
    Part of the problem facing ACC revenue is the lackluster performance of its football members except Clemson. In 2016, Pitt played nationally televised games against Penn State and Clemson, both wins, and both boosts to the ACC’s reputation. Pitt beat #2 Miami in 2017 and nationally ranked Central Florida in 2020. Overshadowing those are beatdowns administered by Clemson in the ACC championship game and the Covid-altered season of 2020 and under Pat Narduzzi, Pitt has no wins over Notre Dame. Bowl losses in the Pinstripe and Sun Bowls particularly hurt Pitt and the ACC’s reputation.
    Along with Pitt, Miami, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech have all choked in high profile games. Florida State blew into Heinz Field for Pitt’s ACC opener and won a national title but is now flailing. How long can the ACC depend on Clemson to buoy the financial fortunes of the other 14 teams? How long can the ACC allow Notre Dame to joy ride for five football contests a year after saving the Irish in 2020?
    In recent high-profile contests with Penn State, Pitt is 1-3. Imagine the national prestige and possible national ranking that would have occurred if Pitt had gone 4-0 or 3-1? Is the Pitt football program run by Pat Narduzzi increasing Pitt’s value to the ACC and, subsequently, the value of the ACC nationally?
    As fans we celebrate ACC revenues after earning a pittance in the old Big East. The revenue gap, however, is felt by ACC conference members who worry the Duke-North Carolina basketball conference will never put football first, never be more than the last place Power 5 team in terms of generating revenue and national respect.
    Seeing Pitt field its best baseball and volleyball teams ever is gratifying and a source of pride for all of us. But what Pitt and the ACC needs is sustained success on the football field with 10-win seasons and national rankings and a basketball team that does not embarrass the university and conference.


  9. Soccer just got ten clubs to form a super league. They will eventually get 20 to join. It’s driven by financials. Pure greed. Will destroy the premier league and cup competitions. The little clubs and fans lose.

    This same thing will happen in college. 20-30 schools form their own super conference outside the NCAA for football. Payouts will be $100 million per school based on the tv contract and playoffs.

    Let’s not forget that football pays the bills. Basketball can easily support itself. It’s very profitable…when fans pack the Pete.

    All these secondary sports lose money each year. Sometimes several million. Many of these successful sports now at Pitt could go on the chopping block if the ACC doesn’t figure this out and proactively make moves.


  10. sorry…there were paragrpahs there before posting….on the topic, ESPN is projecting what a Super League for college football would look like. No one is putting Pitt in this league the fault for which lies with…the Pitt administration. With two verifiable AP national championships, Pitt should be in the discussion. Unfortunately, the university doesn’t place a premium on success.



  11. Nice to end the school year with some “feel good” thanks to the men’s soccer,wrestling, baseball and the ladies VB teams…..basketball and football need to get on board…..I bet it wouldn’t take long for PITT to develop a good competitive DIV 1 hockey team……lotsa local talent….come 0n Heather…BigB and son Ben already have purchased our hockey sweaters to support the team…I told JeanieB if PITT doesn”t come up with a hockey team to just go ahead and bury me in it !!!…that’s my Plan B…Plan A ,couple of years ago my niece was the head of the Apollo Ridge booster’s. I had her ask Coach Skiba (former PITT FB player) if I could purchase an Apollo-Ridge FB jersey #11 to be laid to rest in…His reply, “How soon does he need it???”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Heather has the feasibility study performed by the nhl. It could be very successful and well attended (3000 fans). Problem is money. Pitt is too lazy to fundraise. Too stupid to market the idea.


  12. Excellent that espn would tie the soccer super league into college football. I generally agree with their list. And yes, pitt won’t be on it. Only the schools with the best brands and largest fanbases.

    I see five divisions within the super league

    Pacific division

    Central division
    Texas A&M
    Oklahoma state

    Southern division
    Florida state

    Midwest division
    Notre Dame
    Ohio state
    Michigan state

    Atlantic division
    Penn state
    North Carolina
    Virginia tech


      1. It probably starts at 20 and then builds from there. Most pro franchises can support 30 markets. 30 might be the magical number. Either way, pitt is left out.

        So Pitts ACC check today is $30 million. It could be $100 million if it had a top 30 brand and following. It will most likely drop to $15-$20 million after this super league. That means program cuts and no more $4 million dollar coaches.

        I left out Iowa. They’d make the cut for the Midwest.


    1. Tex,

      Its an interesting topic and one worthy of its own article (correctin – a series of srticles).
      Not a bad list you have constructed, but I might argue about some of the guesses:

      The Hokies aren’t a guarantee to join. They are now joined at the hip with UVA and have always dreamt of being in the ACC. The Golden Hokies love being in the ACC.

      Similarly, UNC is probably a fencesitter here for similar reasons.

      Minnesota is nouveau riche in matters of football. Nebraska, despite its recent showing is a FB blueblood, has a large following and is accretive in a TV contract (ask the BigTen).

      One program you did not mention that I believe is a possibility is the Hoopies. I know, heads exploding here. But they have a big following and pack their stadium, SEC style, albeit the couch-burning is a detractor. And their football history is a bit nomadic and I would guess a more regional model woudl sit them quite nicely.

      But the biggest issue to overcome in such a setup occurring is the school Presidents – the ones who actually make these decisions. And the conference member schools. Its hard to imagine the Big Ten or the ACC schools agreeing to allow some of their schools to opt out for football while remaining for other sports. And there is more than athletics at play with at least the BigTen and I believe the ACC, who collaborate on research and operate library networks with the other confierence schools.

      It will be interesting to watch it play out.


      1. Yes. You’re correct. It may not be as easy as the articles suggest. But $100 million guaranteed per school is tough to pass up. I’m sure they’ll find a way. But it will destroy rivalries and create some bad blood.

        Just like the soccer super league. FIFA and others are doing their best to stop it. It will eventually be settled in the courts like everything else.

        I can see Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and ole miss as some others. Really any school that represents a state. Hoopies included.


  13. Are Heather Lyke and Paul Gallagher up to the challenge of guiding Pitt through what is almost certain to be a changing landscape where the high profile programs reap the rewards? If you read the ESPN article with different rosters from ESPN staff writers for the Super Conferences, you see how they expand to include what Chris Dokish used to call the Tier 1 schools from Alabama to Texas A&M.

    Pitt should be in the discussion. If and when the super conferences emerge, freed from the bulky, archaic, unevenly enforced NCAA rules, there won’t be Boston College to throw Pitt a lifeline like it did in 2011. BC certainly won’t be in the discussion.

    Tex has written about the probability of upcoming changes with the zeal of a preacher. Pitt is not ready and won’t be as long as Gallagher remains an absent figure in the Pitt sports discussion and Heather Lyke is the AD.

    You may think Heather is doing a good job. She is not. Narduzzi’s team is projected to lose at least five games in the upcoming season. Doesn’t take Rasputin’s will to predict this, he has lost five games in every season he’s coached at Pitt. Five losses per season is Heather’s football legacy at Pitt. Long losing streaks for her basketball program define Lyke’s leadership of the winter sports. Championships in Olympic sports – if this is all she has to hang her reputation on – do not cut it in the big picture of conference revenue and prestige.

    2021-22 is a make-or-break year for Pitt’s two revenue sports. Prognosticators don’t have to work too hard by writing Pitt will lose five games in football and Jeff Capel III will struggle again with the likelihood of multiple January and February losses. Why? Because nothing is changing. Nothing is being done.

    Think of it this way: Captain Smith could have saved the Titanic from its destiny by, for example, having a life boat drill, slowing down, or paying attention to the multiple ice warnings he received. Gallagher and Lyke are like Captain Smith – out of touch, uninterested, self-preoccupied. Don’t think for a minute Penn State has any interest in helping Pitt and West Viriginia fans will be out in full force next season hollering “Sh*t on Pitt.”

    And if the worst does occur, and Pitt is relegated to some version of the AAC, there will be no glory, no memories of what could have been.


    1. Narduzzi locking the gates reminds me of the scene in the movie Titanic when they locked gates on the stairways leading from the lower decks.


  14. So true. Pitt needs to be proactive on this. But Pitt doesn’t have the brand. It doesn’t have a large following. And it shares a tv market with penn state.

    I’m not sure what Pitt can do. And I’m sure that penn state would not want Pitt in their division.

    Pitt definitely does not make the first cut of 20 teams. It’s a bubble school or an outsider looking in if they expand to 30. It’s viable if the league goes to 40 schools but will Pitt want it.

    That mission statement gets in the way. I urge everyone to look at the sports mission statement for the university of Texas.


    1. I wouldn’t model my program after Texas. They aren’t close to elite in football since 2009. Basketball is better but nothing elite.


      1. They have an outstanding sports program. Football and basketball are mediocre by their standards. Pitt would kill for those two programs. It’s all relative.

        Look at the total number of national champions that Texas has produced across all sports. They are a model sports program. Now granted they do have certain advantages but they don’t cheat big time, have major ethical, moral and criminal scandals, and their academics are top notch.


        1. Just talking recent history and football/basketball. Obviously better success than Pitt but with their budget, they should be up there with Clemson, Alabama in football.


          1. In football yes. But they just fired their coach. Texas doesn’t mess around.

            They’re building a brand new basketball area and doing major end zone and scoreboard/video renovations. They need a packed house and happy boosters to pay for all that.


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