How do you follow up the program’s first trip to the College Cup? You start the next season ranked No. 1 in the country, of course.
Such is the case for the West Virginia University women’s soccer team. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s squad claimed the top spot in the 2017 United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division I Women National Preseason Ranking after finishing 2016 No. 2 behind national champion USC.
Izzo-Brown said early in the offseason that the most difficult part of her task as the team’s head coach would be to get her players refocused on doing it all over again. The program had never reached the College Cup, much less come 90 minutes from a national title, and now that it had made it to those heights, it would become her goal to convince them to do it every year.
“When we came together after Christmas break, we had a team meeting and we talked about what our goals would be,” Izzo-Brown told West Virginia Illustrated. “Their No. 1 goal was to get back and win it. They’ve set the standard and this whole past spring, we’ve just been working hard to get ourselves back to that final game.”
After WVU in the rankings, Stanford checks in at No. 2, followed by USC, South Carolina and Georgetown at No. 5. The Mountaineers open the regular season against the Hoyas, another of the teams that made last year’s College Cup, and the only team to beat West Virginia in the 2016 regular season.
“We know we will have a huge giant to slay the first game of the year,” Izzo-Brown said of the Aug. 18 opener in Washington, D.C. “I’ve been talking a lot about the Hoyas and what they bring and that’s a great way for us to start and see where we’re at.”
For the first time in the past four seasons, Izzo-Brown is preparing for a full schedule without her biggest stars: Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.
The Canadians graduated from the program after taking it to the championship game and now whatever the Mountaineers do this season will come without two players they have come to rely on in the past. The good news is there have been plenty of instances over the past few seasons in which WVU has had to play without Buchanan and Lawrence as they were called up for action on the Canadian National Team, but now they must find out what they are capable of without those two for a whole year.
“We have to figure it out,” Izzo-Brown said. “Keish and Ash are huge, incredible players that brought us to another level, but we also did it internally with different individuals. We’re a team sport and it’s not about two. Keish and Ash are pulling for us to make sure we get back.”
Outside of Buchanan and Lawrence, nine starters return from last year’s team. The No. 1-ranked Mountaineers open preseason action on Monday, Aug. 7, at 1 p.m. at Michigan before hosting Bowling Green at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 1 p.m.