(Citynet Statewide Sportsline interview with Nikki Izzo-Brown)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 25 years into her tenure as the only head coach in the history of the WVU women’s soccer program, Nikki Izzo-Brown is preparing for a season that will not end in the NCAA Tournament in the fall. The Mountaineers have reached the NCAA’s in every season since 2000.
The NCAA announced on Thursday that all fall sport championships (excluding FBS football) will not take place in the fall and may be taken off the 2020-2021 calendar entirely due to the pandemic.
Traditionally, Division I soccer teams play an 18-match regular season schedule in the fall prior to conference and NCAA tournaments. The script will change this year in a number of ways.
“What I understand right now is that if we played fifty percent or less of that (20-match fall schedule including preseason scrimmages), we don’t lose our eligibility right now. As of (Friday), we might be playing nine games in conference and one non-conference game. Nothing is set in stone,” Izzo-Brown said.
“We could potentially play for a Big 12 Tournament championship, giving them that experience in the fall. And then in the spring, if the NCAA does sponsor women’s soccer in a tournament, we would be able to play in that and not lose any (eligibility) this year.”
All NCAA spring sport championships were canceled last March and the NCAA has indicated that those sports will have first priority to compete in full seasons in the spring of 2021.
“In my professional opinion, I think it is going to be very hard to have all these NCAA Tournaments (in the spring). I do think baseball, softball and all those sports that lost their championships last year should go first.”
For now, the Mountaineers are proceeding with preseason training camp. No match schedule has been finalized at this point.
“The girls love the routine. They love the opportunity to get back to play. We all want to be safe. We are all in our bubble. Coaches are making very interesting pods trying to keep us as safe as we can. But at the end of the day, these kids all want some type of normal.
“Obviously, every kid can do what they want. If they want to opt-out, I understand. If they want to train, then let’s go.”
In a normal year, the Mountaineers compete in a small spring schedule of matches against programs in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“We have a spring season and you play five competitions but they don’t count. They are like ‘super scrimmages’. In baseball, it is like fall ball. For us, we are just going to look at it as a swap. So our fall is going to be kind of a spring season. But if the NCAA does cancel, our girls got those games in and they didn’t lose eligibility.”
If a fall season against league opponents can be formalized, WVU will enter the year ranked fourth in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll. The Mountaineers finished fourth in the league a year ago but still played their way into the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I am finally the underdog. I am loving that every day I can come in with that. I am going to bring that so I am super-excited that we can have that type of motivation. My girls’ response to that is we didn’t prove that we should be better so we are going to prove them wrong. I love that about them.”