By: Amit Batra, Will Hirsch, and Taylor Eaton
The West Virginia Women’s Soccer team wrapped up the 2013 season with a 13-3-2 record and its second consecutive Big 12 regular season title. The squad has been one of the most successful programs for the Mountaineer faithful in recent years. Led by head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, WVU has made the NCAA Tournament every year dating back to 2000; that streak is good for 13 years, and it is the ninth longest in the nation.
Before leaving for the Big 12 Conference, West Virginia won back-to-back Big East championships. Izzo-Brown’s group finished the 2011 season with a 17-5-0 record and a 10-1-0 mark in league play. The team’s 10 wins in conference play was a school record and made WVU one of four Big East Conference schools to win 10 league matches in a season. In 2012, the Mountaineers were the first WVU athletics program to win a Big 12 regular season title.
Success has been constant for West Virginia women’s soccer. Izzo-Brown has never had a losing season as a head coach, and she’s lead WVU to 13 straight, 10-win seasons. In their inaugural Big 12 year, the Mountaineers went 7-0-1 in conference play in route to the league crown. Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year Izzo-Brown, and the 2012 team defeated then-No. 1 Stanford in one of the biggest upsets in West Virginia women’s soccer history. The victory snapped the Cardinals’ 64-match regular season unbeaten streak on Aug. 26, 2012.
Izzo-Brown has not only produced quality teams throughout the years, but also some of the most well known players in the nation. In the 2013 season, senior Bry McCarthy was chosen as the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Through its first five conference games, WVU has remained undefeated after defeating Oklahoma State, then-No. 9 Baylor and Texas, Iowa State and TCU. Senior Frances Silva leads the Big 12 in points and assists, while tallying 10 goals in the process.
“The stats that she’s doing and the production she’s doing is huge as a senior,” Izzo-Brown said of Silva. “The leadership piece is huge. She’s that captain on the field. (Frances) is a soccer mind. It’s the little things she’s doing. It’s so critical for us.”
Junior forward Kate Schwindel also had 10 goals through the Mountaineers’ 15 matches (11-2-2). WVU opened its season tying then-No. 2 Penn State and the squad also tied then-No. 9 Duke. In one of the most difficult matches on the schedule, the Mountaineers were the first team in two years to tally two goals on then-No. 1 North Carolina in September. The Tar Heels eventually defeated West Virginia 4-2.
“It’s all due to Nikki and her coaching staff,” said West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck. “Winning the Big East was a real accomplishment. There were some pretty good programs. She maintained a pretty challenging nonconference schedule last year. Her record speaks for itself. I know she’d be the first one to tell you that she was very disappointed in winning the Big 12 regular season title last year and losing the first tournament game to TCU.”
“I know she would say she’s not where she wants to be. She’s done a marvelous job, but they still need to stay focused to win.”
Izzo-Brown has the Mountaineers ranked in the top 10 in Soccer America’s Top 25 Poll, while Top Drawer Soccer has WVU in the top 25.
Schwindel, who admitted she was hesitant to come to West Virginia prior to her first visit, said that Izzo-Brown pushes her players to that extra level. She said Izzo-Brown is one of the best coaches she’s ever had.
“She expects a lot of me. I think (the success) is more of a chemistry thing. Our program is notable for working hard, and that’s what we expect each year. Recruiting wise, I think they do a great job finding those players who want to make a difference,” Schwindel said.
Silva also pointed to the success of the program as the reason she chose Morgantown as her ultimate destination. She said Izzo-Brown is more of a friend than just a coach, and the chance of having a close relationship with her teammates is what really attracted her to WVU.
“It’s not exactly easy to come to West Virginia from Kansas – it’s a couple of flights and a drive,” Silva said. “That was appealing to me that it was far away. I also realized the level of soccer here was very high. I loved the coaching staff; I liked the girls a lot. I loved the atmosphere.”
Opposing coaches and opponents can see that one-of-a-kind atmosphere as well. Prior to Texas’ match with West Virginia on Oct. 4 – an eventual 2-1 loss to the Mountaineers – the Longhorns’ head coach Angela Kelly was quoted in The Daily Texan about her respect for WVU and its coaching staff.
“I’ve competed against West Virginia my whole career, especially at Tennessee, and I have a ton of respect for their coaching staff and for their style of play,” Kelly said. “It’s a great environment in Morgantown. This is like an NCAA first or second round game to me. We’re ultimately here to win championships, so we need a little bit of that seasoning and we’re going to get it.”
The crowd of 1,533 fans when WVU played Texas was the fifth-largest in the history of Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
As the season ended in late October, Izzo-Brown’s squad won their fourth consecutive conference title after defeating Oklahoma 2-1 in double overtime. With the victory, West Virginia improved to 15-0-1 in two seasons in the Big 12, and the Mountaineers won their second consecutive Big 12 regular season championship. WVU lost its first Big 12 regular season conference match to Texas Tech in the Mountaineers’ final match of the regular season Oct. 27. Izzo-Brown and WVU will look to get past last year’s loss to TCU and win the conference tournament beginning on Nov. 6. West Virginia will enter the Big 12 Tournament with the No. 1 seed. The NCAA tournament begins Nov. 15.