Posted: May 1, 2015 at 8:51 pm

By Dillon Durst, Shane Price, Steve Accardi and Eddie Santiago

Since its first year of existence in 1996, the West Virginia University women’s soccer team has never finished with a losing record.

A lot of that success has to do with the program’s elite players from the past rejoining the team as assistants under longtime head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who has compiled an impressive 280-103-43 record as a coach.

As with any successful college program, recruiting the right athletes is at the core of WVU’s impressive run of success. Assistant Marisa Kanela, an All-Big East midfielder for the Mountaineers from 2002-2005, believes coaching at her alma mater helps during the year-round recruiting process.

Along with Kanela, assistant coaches Lisa Stoia and Zach Johnson also played for the Mountaineers before joining the team as assistants. Stoia, now in her eighth year with the program as the associate head coach, was a four-year letter-winner at WVU from 2000-2003, helping the Mountaineers to four NCAA tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 run during her senior year.

“We’ve been through it, we understand it, so I think it really helps sell because it’s the truth and (recruits) can see that,” Kanela said.

Kanela said her status as an All-Big East selection during her playing years is sometimes difficult to pitch during the recruiting process.

“It’s hard to throw it around when we have so many successful players here. Our associate head coach played professionally and we went to the combine together,” she said. “I decided to stay in grad school because I knew coaching was my route and I stuck with it.”

Whereas other Division 1 sports such as football and basketball have dead periods during recruiting when coaches aren’t allowed to contact recruits, no such thing exists for both men’s and women’s soccer. Kanela said a lot of her time as a coach is spent on the recruiting trail, and the entire recruiting process is as challenging as advertised.

“We have a full year recruiting cycle and every time there’s a break in the school calendar, we’re out recruiting,” she said. “Even when there’s not a break, we’re still out recruiting. I’ve been on the road the last three weekends, I’m at home for two weekends, and then I’m on the road for five weekends. It’s hard, but that’s sacrifice. We’re all competitive and any of us that get into sports are extremely competitive.”

Freshman Michaela Abam, who recently earned a roster spot on the United States Under-20 Women’s National Team, chose WVU because of Izzo-Brown and the program’s reputation as a national power.

“When West Virginia first came into the picture, it was different. It snows up here, and I prefer the heat,” Abam admitted. “She’s (Izzo-Brown) been there since Day 1 with me. I remember having hour-long conversations with her and she was recruiting me. She’s a great coach, but is also like a mom.”

Abam, a Houston native, was the No. 3-ranked player in the Texas region during high school and was the No. 6-ranked defender nationally.

Kanela said recruiting and bringing in athletes like Abam is what the Mountaineers need to do in order to achieve their goal of a national championship.

“Nikki (Izzo-Brown) puts it perfectly: You can’t just have some chefs here, you need some cooks here and there,” Kanela said. “Chefs being our national team players with a ton of talent, we need their international experience to raise the level of our practices and raise the level of their play. …We have two girls that are playing with the Canadian National Team about to play in the World Cup in a few months.

“We want to see more kids get there. The more players we can get of that type of caliber, the more players we’re going to get overall. It means we’re doing our jobs well if we can get those players and show them that they can develop.”

Kanela said WVU’s rise to becoming one of the nation’s elite programs was built strictly on hard work.

“Those are the words that we go by, it’s the backbone of our program,” she said. “It’s what I was recruited on. It’s what she (Izzo-Brown) has instilled amongst her players and in her program.

“We’re very family oriented, and everybody wants to work with one another because we want to see everybody succeed.”

Hard work in the recruiting process has certainly paid off for the Mountaineers in players like Abam and those before her. During her remaining three years at WVU, Abam said her main goal is to win a national championship, and then become a professional.

“I feel like we have the talent to be first place, and I think we can go all the way,” she said.