Howland’s Perez getting jump start

While most athletes her age were signing letters of intent on National Signing Day, Seyla Perez was concluding her first month at college.

The University of Pittsburgh freshman graduated from Howland on Dec. 6, in order to enroll at Pitt for the winter semester and participate in the Pitt soccer team’s offseason workout program. For Perez, it was an easy decision to graduate a semester early.

“My coaches had asked me to go,” Perez said. “To me, there was no negative in coming early – just positives. So, it was kind of an easy decision. A lot of work to get there, though.”

The Pitt coaching staff wanted her to enroll early because they have high expectations for her, as the Panthers are trying to rebuild after a tough season. Joining a team that went 0-13 in Atlantic Coast Conference play last year, Perez should plug straight into the team’s starting lineup as a freshman.

“That gives us six months to basically work with her to get her a better understanding of what we’re going to need out of her because she’s a player that we are expecting to have an immediate impact on the field and hopefully be in that starting 11 when (the season) comes around,” assistant coach Mike Baker said. “So, being able to give her that free time to work with her where it doesn’t count against her is absolutely huge.”

Baker said Perez will play center back for the Panthers like she did for her club team, Cleveland United, as her size (5-foot-9) makes her a perfect ACC defender, and the Panthers need a lot of help on defense. In the 2013 season, the team allowed a conference-worst 41 goals.

Perez, who accumulated 47 goals and 27 assists throughout her four years at Howland as a more attacking midifelder, will still play a role on offense, coming forward on set pieces and staying up top late in matches when her team needs goals.

“It’s nice to know that we have the ability if need be if we’re down a goal late in the game, we can push her to midfield or up top to help push numbers forward because she’s done that both with high school and club,” Baker said. “On set pieces, corner kicks, things like that, she’s definitely going to be up top for us, using that 5-9 frame to reach up in the air, win us some balls and score us a couple of goals for us.”

Before Perez takes the field, she’s been learning the life of a college athlete and going through strength and conditioning training. That should change soon with the team getting to practice and eventually start the spring exhibition schedule, and Perez said she’s ready for it.

“Our first game is three weeks from Saturday,” Perez said. “Just right now, I’m excited. It’s a different excited than I’ve ever been, that’s for sure.”