(Nikki Izzo-Brown pre-spring Zoom conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In her 25th season leading the WVU women’s soccer program, Nikki Izzo-Brown is well on her way in leading the Mountaineers to a 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
While many conferences across the nation delayed women’s soccer seasons until the spring, the Big 12 played a nine-match, conference-only slate. The Mountaineers went 7-2, good enough for a No. 7 ranking in the current national coaches poll. WVU fell 1-0 at TCU in their final match of the fall as the Horned Frogs claimed the league championship.
“TCU was deserving of our conference championship but I was so proud of the obstacles we had to overcome in the fall,” Izzo-Brown said.
“You are never satisfied when you don’t win a championship because that is what we have pledged here and that is our standard of excellence. But to look back, what this team did was pretty incredible considering the competitive advantages and disadvantages. I thought we really pulled together and performed well.”
The Mountaineers played five road matches, traveling on alternating weeks throughout the fall. As conferences who didn’t compete in the fall now play a compressed 13-match spring schedule, the Mountaineers will play two exhibitions and four matches that will count towards their NCAA Tournament resume.
“We wanted them to take a break. But the periodization of ramping it back up with the goal of no injury and making sure we get them to peak performance really relied a lot on their internal motivation.”
The Mountaineers returned to action with a 3-0 win over Akron Sunday in an exhibition match.
“We haven’t played since November so it was really important that we had that game in before the St. Joe’s game.”
WVU visits St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia Sunday for their first official match of the spring season. The Hawks are 1-2 heading into Friday’s match with Towson.
“They are fighting for wins just like we are. We are so excited to play a quality opponent like St. Joe’s and hopefully we’ll give them everything we got.”
On March 13, the Mountaineers will scrimmage the Louisville franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League, the top-level of professional play in the United States.
“With our program having 29 professional players, getting our team in front of professional coaches and getting our players to see the level of professionals is so important. My main goal is to maximize potential here and help players achieve whatever goal it is that they have individually. Most kids are coming here to be pros.
“Also, it is an incredible opportunity to see what we are not going to be good at. When you are playing a professional team, it will be a great learning opportunity.”
The Mountaineers will play their first home match of the spring on March 27 against Duke. A home-and-home series with regional rival Virginia will follow.
“Talking about Virginia, the quality of our opponent is very important with us not getting an automatic qualifier, because we finished second in conference play,” Izzo-Brown said. “They’ll present a great game for us and allow us to see a lot of things before we go into the championship season.”
The NCAA Tournament is set to begin in mid-April with a reduced field. Izzo-Brown says the team may create more competitive opportunities in practice throughout the spring to peak in time for the postseason.
“If that maybe means some more intrasquad scrimmaging between and try to do more game-like situations, that is what we are going to have to do.”