Pitt Women Look Toward Future

The Pitt women's basketball team doesn't have the program history that its men's counterpart has developed the past decade, but the Lady Panthers are getting closer every season.

With Coach Agnus Berenato reloading the past few seasons, the Pittsburgh women are on the upswing.

"I think the story of Pitt Women's Basketball is the celebration of back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances,'' Berenato said. "I think that anytime you can have a back-to-back Sweet Sixteen banner, you start to develop a tradition, and that's something we haven't had at Pitt with women's basketball.

"We have a great tradition with academics, a great tradition with football, a great tradition with men's basketball, a great tradition with all our Olympic sports, but I think that we have really tried to develop a fabulous program. ... This is our seventh season now, and we didn't want to have a good team, we wanted to have a great program.''

Fifth-year senior Sophronia Sallard, the lone player in her final season, is joined by redshirt junior point guard Jania Sims, junior guard Shayla Scott and 6-foot-6 sophomore center Pepper Wilson as the key returning players. Shavonte Zellous, the leading scorer last season, is playing now in the WNBA.

"I'm really excited to have Jania Sims back, a true point guard,'' Berenato said. "I believe that she is one of the best point guards in the country, and all of you will be really pleased to see her in action, and I bet that she's just chomping at the bit to get back (after academic and injury issues the past two years).

"Pepper Wilson was the only Big East student-athlete to participate in the U.S. U-19 team trials and unfortunately she had to have knee surgery, so she didn't make that trip with the team. Shayla Scott comes back to us, and what we've done is moved her from a forward to a guard, so I think that will be a big challenge for her, but I think it's something that really excites her.

"Shayla likes to be outside,'' Berenato added. "She likes the perimeter, and she likes to face the basket maybe more than having her back to it. And then we have our only returning senior, Sophronia Sallard. ... I think you've heard from Phro before. She'll have a great game, and then you won't hear anything from Phro, but I think this is an opportunity for her to make a name for herself.''

Sims was injured early last season, so her return to the court has been anticipated by all the Pitt players. But no one more than Sims.

"I'm really excited to get back on the court,'' Sims said. "I finally got to play and I was running up and down, and people (told) me to just relax. ... But it's really exciting to know that I'm coming back to a team that has so many weapons and that can be really good.''

The Lady Panthers are playing host to NCAA first- and second-round games this coming March, 2010, at the Petersen Events Center. And Pitt wants to take part in that home-court advantage.

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