August 13, 2017
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The 2017 women’s soccer season is officially here.
With preseason nearly complete and two exhibition wins to its name, the No. 1-ranked West Virginia University women’s soccer team can now turn its attention to its season opener, a 4 p.m. match at No. 5 Georgetown on Friday, Aug. 18, at Shaw Field, in Washington, D.C.
A matchup against two 2016 NCAA College Cup teams awaits eager Mountaineer fans who are ready to support WVU again following its most successful season in 21 years. Led by coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, the Mountaineers finished as the National Runner-Up last year. WVU also tallied a nation- and program-best 23 wins and 18 shutouts and swept the Big 12 Conference titles for the third time in four years.
Recently, Izzo-Brown shared her thoughts on her 2017 squad.
You led the team to the NCAA College Cup in 2016 for the first time in program history, and WVU finished as the NCAA Tournament Runner-Up. How does the team bounce back and go further in 2017?
The goal since we returned to training in January was to get this program back to the NCAA College Cup. We need to make sure that no one leaves this season with any regrets.
There are 15 letterwinners returning this season. Are you hoping their memories of the NCAA College Cup Final fuel them this year?
I know a lot of our players were disappointed that we finally qualified for the NCAA College Cup and they left San Jose feeling that they didn’t complete their journey. I know a lot of them have been disappointed, and that has fueled them during the offseason.
You have five seniors on this year’s roster – how will you rely on them for leadership?
I think all five of these athletes have had so many different experiences and opportunities to grow throughout their careers. With any leadership group, it’s important to have different perspectives. They each will bring their own unique perspectives, but they also understand what we have to do to win and be successful as a group. I’m looking forward to having five leaders and their perspectives to make sure we feel good at the end of the season about what we did throughout the year.
Based on the 2016 lineup, there’s potential for you to have at least one, if not two, seniors on each line. How will this help your team navigate the tough schedule it will face at the beginning of the year?
Each of our athletes understands the hard work and dedication needed to get us to 23 wins last season. I think their experience not only speaks to the years but also the minutes they’ve been on the field throughout their careers. I think their years and minutes, combined with their maturity, will give this team a needed perspective.
Once again, you’ve compiled a tough schedule for your squad. There is potential for your team to face at least four ranked teams in the first four weeks of the season. How will this slate help your squad late in the year?
This is going to be a very challenging schedule. I know this team wants to get back to the NCAA College Cup, and this schedule will show us our strengths and our weaknesses right away.
I’m excited! I want to see where we stand. There will be high expectations, that’s for sure. We have to get good very quick, and we have to make sure we’re at the top of our game.
The team swept the Big 12 Conference titles in 2016 for the third time in four seasons and has won the regular-season crown in each of its five years as a conference member. How do you all handle the large target that sits squarely on your back?
This program understands that pressure is a privilege. We have to protect our Big 12 titles, and we cannot view pressure any other way. We have to protect what is ours. We are a program which has 16 conference championships, and that’s why most of these student-athletes choose to come to West Virginia University – they want to win championships.
We have to continue our legacy, which we do with hard work and focus. Ultimately, we can only worry about what West Virginia is doing, but we have to understand that every team wants to take us down.
Your backline, which posted a nation- and program-best 18 shutouts in 2016, will have to play without the service of center back Kadeisha Buchanan for the first time in four years. How does your defense move forward?
I say this every year – you can’t replace players, especially one like Kadeisha Buchanan, who I have always said was the best in the country.
Keisha was such a giver and a builder. She led that backline throughout her career, and I know they all don’t want to let her down this season. They’re going to want to match or exceed that shutout record, too.
It’s hard for all freshmen to acclimate, and I think there are incredible growth opportunities for Rylee this season. I’ve seen how much she’s matured in one year; she’s grown her game. She knows what it’s going to take this season and has developed a lot since her freshman year, and I think we’re going to be able to lean on Rylee.
This preseason is one of the first in recent history where you will have your entire team in camp. How will this training period help your team as it prepares for a tough 2017 slate?
I think it’s going to be a lot easier for us this preseason – everyone will better understand her role. In the past, we were preparing for players to ‘come back.’ There’s not going to be a lot of uncertainty. Our time together during preseason camp will be huge for this team, as we’ll be able to bond and adjust to each other, all while understanding our goals for 2017. It’s going to be a great preseason, and we’re excited to have everyone here and plugged-in to our team.
There are 11 newcomers on this year’s roster. What role do you see these student-athletes playing this season?
I think that all these freshmen bring a wealth of experience. Everything depends on how quickly we can get them to adapt.
The buzz surrounding this team grew exponentially in 2016. What does the support and excitement that follows your program do for you and the student-athletes?
There’s no question that we’ve always felt that Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium is electric. Our home field and our fan base, even when we play away from Morgantown, give us an extra competitive edge and a boost of energy. We heard our fans loud and proud last year – we set a lot of home records with our sellouts. It’s critical that we’re always rocking Dick Dlesk Stadium and making sure this team has an advantage.
Ten of the 15 returning Mountaineers were named to either the President’s or Dean’s List for the 2017 spring semester. How important is it to you to see your student-athletes balance their responsibilities in the classroom and on the playing field?
We are in an environment where we want to win on the playing field, but most importantly, we want to win in the classroom. It’s so incredibly amazing that these young women achieve in both arenas and at a high level. That’s our goal. We want to make sure they’re the best they can be with their school work and with what they’re accomplishing in the game.