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At the end of the spring semester, most student athletes head home to their families, some they haven’t seen in months. But for a select group of Pitt athletes, their destination after finals wasn’t the comforts of their own bed, rather a country many in the first world would never think of visiting.
Cassidy Walsh, a junior on the Pitt Women’s Basketball team, was joined by 16 other athletes from the university in a mission trip to Haiti earlier this month. Organized by Coalition of Christian Outreach, which is run by Mark Steffe, the group stayed in Cap Haitien, located on the north coast of the island nation. For the Pittsburgh native, it was an experience unlike anything she had before in her life.
“It was completely amazing, life changing,” Walsh said. “I just really enjoyed the simplicity of life over there and culture shock, something I’ve never experienced.”
The group visited several different locations in Haiti including the EBAC orphanage, the New Vision Children’s Home, IDADEE orphanage and New Hope Hospital. At the orphanages, the student-athletes helped the children with painting, cleaning and repairing facilities, teaching English and helping with coursework.
They explored much of Haiti and even toured the Citadelle, a large castle on the top of the mountain Bonnet a L’Eveque, roughly 17 miles south of where they were located. Since they were on an island, the group did find time to go to the beach where they stayed at the Joshua House.
Overall it was a humbling experience for Walsh.
“Their life is so simple over there,” Walsh said. “ They focus on God, family and food. The things we focus on aren’t as important as the main necessities of life. The problems that you have here are so small and minuscule compared to the problems they had there.”
She feels more student-athletes should take advantage of opportunities like this.
“We are so busy with our sport or academic life sometimes we just get so consumed in it we forget what’s out there,” Walsh shared. “ I would definitely encourage people to take a step out of their comfort zone.”
After being a two-time all-state performer as well as winning two state championships, Walsh has come off the bench her first two seasons in Oakland. She averaged 2.0 points per game for a team that finished 4-12 in the ACC and 13-17 overall. Though they did falter down the stretch after starting 6-0, she is feels the group has learned a lot from their missteps last year.
“I just think we had trouble finishing,” We have tremendous potential and I think the next two upcoming years are going to be really good years for us. Our team is a little more experience now than it has been in my class and the seniors.”
Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio will be looking for more contribution from Walsh with the Panthers having so much turnover from last season. Like the junior, McConnell-Serio is a graduate of Seton La-Salle where her legendary playing career began,but it has been a rocky road since moving from The Bluff to Cardiac Hill. She has only led Pitt to one 20 win season since leaving from Duquesne in 2013 after five straight 20 win seasons. Though the results haven’t showed up yet, her players still admire and respect her, especially Walsh.
“I love playing for her,” Walsh revealed. “She is a great coach as well as a great person, Just being around some that accomplished on every level is something not to take for granted. I just try to learn from her especially since she was a guard all her life and one of best ever.”
Despite the love of she shows for her players, McConnell-Serio still expects 110% from them every play.
“She expects your fullest potential,” Walsh. She sees the ability everyone has and expects nothing less.”
With this experienced group coming back, the Panthers should be in the thick of the ACC in hopes of earning their first NCAA bid since 2015. Walsh believes this is going to be the year they turn it around.
“I’m really excited for the upcoming season,” Walsh said I think we have a lot of potential and we had a really good postseason. The atmosphere is just really good and positive. Everyone has the mindset that we will get there by the hard work we are putting in. This is a big year for us.”