When former Philadelphia Union Academy defender Nyk Sessock was going through the college recruiting process, Pitt stood out to him as a program not for their futile past but for the future he saw for himself there.
On Thursday night, he and Braden Kline, who he first played with as part of the Union Juniors program, were both part of seeing that vision fulfilled when the Panthers defeated Lehigh 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in front of their home crowd. The win was a first for a program founded in 1954.
“The reason I came to Pitt was to make history,” Sessock said in a phone interview. “The stuff that we’ve done that’s never been done before, it’s nice to be apart of that.”
Sessock is in his second year with the program while Kline, a Lancaster native, joined as a transfer from Providence this season. Both have experienced the benefits of a complete reboot of the former ACC cellar dwellers that began with the hiring of former Wake Forest and Timbers 2 coach Jay Vidovich in 2016.
“I knew Jay from Wake Forest and with the Timbers and that’s what drew me in,” said Kline, who joined Nyk on the phone interview. “I knew it was a program that had the capability to continue to rise and we’ve proven that this season.”
Sessock, a right back who likes to get forward and be dangerous in the final third, and Kline, a tall attacking player who often operates from the right flank, have both played key roles in the team as everyday starters.
Kline, who played in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy with PA Classics and graduated from Manheim Township High School, has started 18 of 19 games. Sessock, who played for Ukrainian Nationals before joining the Union U14s in 2013, has started 16 of 19 matches after starting 15 of 17 his freshman year. Both have a goal and an assist on the year.
“It’s definitely the Philly connection over here,” said Sessock, who graduated from YSC Academy in 2018. “I remember Braden from Union Juniors back when and it was already a connection to begin with. We’re good friends off the field and on the field the chemistry seems to be really easy.”
Their combination play down the right side was especially cooking against Virginia earlier this season when Kline had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 upset of No. 1 Virginia. Though Sessock didn’t get on the score sheet he helped spring the play that led to the second goal with a flicked header to Kline in space.
“I told Nyk to flick it on because I was wide open and my man listened to me,” Kline said.
That win on the road back on October 18 was a big statement from the Panthers, especially coming off a tough 3-1 loss to Penn State, and helped them secure the program’s first tournament berth since Lyndon B. Johnson was president after coming up short in the ACC tournament semifinals.
It’s also the kind of win that gives Sessock, Kline and their teammates confidence that they can be more than just a feel good story in the early rounds of the competition. Virginia is ranked No. 1 and was the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
“It really helped us push forward and gave us belief that we are a top team in the nation and can make a run in the tournament,” Kline said. “I think from the outside point of view people are looking at us as underdogs but within the team we don’t see ourselves as an underdog. We know we can go out there and beat any team.”
They’ll have a chance to show that against No. 3 seed Georgetown today at Noon.
“We’re just getting started,” Sessock said.