The Pitt women’s soccer program always held a special place in Landy Mertz’s heart.
An Upper St. Clair graduate who originally committed to play collegiately at Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Mertz opted for a homecoming of sorts and transferred to Pitt in 2020.
“I took a leap of faith,” she said. “I think that was the best decision I could have made for myself because while it’s been extremely challenging at times, it’s been extremely rewarding.”
For Mertz and the Panthers.
Mertz was recently named to the All-ACC third team as part of a core of players that led No. 19 Pitt to the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in program history.
Pitt (12-4-3, 5-3-2 ACC), the No. 4 seed in the tournament, will host Buffalo (15-1-4, 7-0-4 MAC) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ambrose Urbanic Field.
“I think that my maturation process through all of college has been really cool to sort of experience,” Mertz said. “I started at the University of Dayton for my first two years, so going from a mid-major to a big program was a big step for me.
“Seeing the hard work pay off this year has been really special.”
Mertz has started all 19 games, logging 1,434 minutes for the Panthers, in 2022. She scored a career-best 16 points and six goals, while registering 54 shots – 33 on goal.
“It was very unexpected,” said Mertz of joining Amanda West as the second Panthers player ever to be named to the All-ACC team. “I wasn’t really thinking at all that was even a possibility, so the day that it happened I was honestly in shock, but it’s an amazing honor. I feel really lucky to be represented on that team. It’s an awesome sort of recognition not only for myself but for the program and the team in general.”
Pitt women’s soccer coach Randy Waldrum has enjoyed reaping the benefits of Mertz’s strong senior campaign.
“We were ecstatic to get her because we knew what kind of a person she was and a player,” he said. “She’s been fantastic, nothing short of fantastic for us. Her strengths are she loves to go at players one vs. one and she loves to attack players.
“She’s starting to score some critical goals in critical games for us. She’s been a real, real danger.”
Mertz is tied with teammate Sarah Schupansky, a North Allegheny graduate, for the second-most goals on the team behind Leah Pais and has the third-most points and fourth-most assists. Her four game-winning goals are tied for the most among ACC players and are tied for 24th most in the country.
“I’m definitely a very attacking-minded player,” Mertz said. “I play out on the wing so I like having a sideline behind me that I can work with. I definitely look to go forward when I have the ball. I think I thrive in the one-on-one situation.”
And she is looking forward to channeling that mindset into another challenge in the NCAA tournament against Buffalo.
“We are used to playing in the ACC now, so we are ready to get a fresh new face in the matchup,” Mertz said. “We know we are ready no matter what. We are still focusing on just playing our game. Sometimes you have to change how you play to fit the style of play when you are playing such high-caliber teams.
“We are sort of focusing on us and playing our game and imposing our will on them and being confident that the game plan we’ve been going with all year will be successful.”
Pitt qualified for the NCAA tournament field as one of 33 at-large bids. Buffalo earned one of 31 automatic qualifying bids after winning the MAC regular season and tournament titles. The Bulls will be making their second NCAA tournament appearance. Pitt and Buffalo are set to square off for the fifth time, with the Panthers holding a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series.
The Panthers set program records with 12 wins, five in the ACC, during the 2022 regular season, while going 7-1-1 at Ambrose Urbanic Field.
Pitt also qualified for the ACC championship field for the first time in program history. The Panthers fell to No. 4-ranked Notre Dame in the first round of the ACC tournament, 5-4, on penalty kicks.
“Our program is not to a point where they can overlook anybody,” Waldrum said. “It’s not going to be an easy game here. If the fans think they are going to come here and watch us blow someone out just because they come from the MAC I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”