The women’s soccer team will be the first Mountaineer program to compete in an athletic event this fall, as WVU finally opens its coronavirus-delayed season campaign Friday night at Iowa State.
“We’re trying to keep it normal, but it’s way beyond normal,” said West Virginia’s veteran head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who is 352-119-52 entering her 25th season with the Mountaineers. “Our focus has been safety first, but now we’re traveling, we’re flying, getting on a bus, staying in a hotel. That’s different, but at the end of the day we’re so thankful we’re going to play and so thankful we’re going to have some competition.”
WVU’s season will potentially be split between the fall and spring this year. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the NCAA postponed all championship competition for the fall sports, including the women’s soccer Division I Tournament, with the hope of holding those in the spring.
“It’s been hard on the NCAA and what they have to juggle,” noted Izzo-Brown. “There is a lot of day-to-day stuff that is hard to predict. I’m not sure what will happen in the spring. I hope we go back to normal, but I don’t think anybody knows.”
While the NCAA Tournament will not be played this fall, the Big 12 decided to continue on with a conference-only women’s soccer season from September through November with one game against each of the other nine league members.
After kicking things off in Ames, West Virginia is slated to play every Friday on an alternating home-and-away basis with Kansas State coming to Morgantown on Sept. 18, to Oklahoma State on Sept. 25, home to Texas on Oct. 2, at Texas Tech on Oct. 9, hosting Baylor of Oct. 16, at Oklahoma on Oct. 23, home to Kansas on Oct. 30 and at TCU on Nov. 6.
The spring schedule is still unknown, though it will likely be comprised of non-conference matches and a scaled-back NCAA Tournament.
Of course the best-laid plans can quickly be erased by the coronavirus. Already Texas Tech’s women’s soccer opener at Kansas State, which was slated for Sept. 11, has had to be postponed because a virus outbreak among the Red Raiders left them below the threshold necessary to play. That match has been moved from the front of the season to the end, Nov. 13.
“On Monday during our coaches’ call, we were writing that up,” said Izzo-Brown of the minimum that is needed to play. “Goalkeepers are different than other players, so we decided we have to have one goalkeeper available. Then we need a total of 14 players.”
Friday marks the ninth meeting between the Mountaineers and Cyclones. WVU is a perfect 8-0 all-time against Iowa State in a series that dates back to 2012. What’s more, West Virginia has scored multiple goals in all eight prior meetings against the Cyclones, including last season’s 2-0 win over ISU on Sept. 27, 2019, in Morgantown. Defensively, WVU hasn’t conceded an Iowa State goal in seven straight games, dating back to a 3-2, WVU win in on Oct. 7, 2012.
The Mountaineers are 7-0-1 in Big 12 openers since joining the conference in 2012. Additionally, the squad enters Friday’s contest with a 54-7-5 record on the road since 2014.
West Virginia features 13 returning letterwinners off last season’s 12-8-2 squad, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 20th consecutive season and advanced to the Round of 16. Eight starters are back in the Gold and Blue, as well as 10 players who scored at least one goal in 2019. In all, the Mountaineers return 28 of their 35 goals from a year ago, good for 80 percent. Junior forward Alina Stahl paced the squad last season with eight goals.
Junior defender Jordan Brewster was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team last month. The North Canton, Ohio, native has twice been named to the All-Big 12 Second Team and helped WVU to nine clean sheets, while tallying four total points (1G, 2A) last season. Sophomore forward Enzi Broussard (3G, 2A) and sophomore defender Nicole Payne (3G, 2A) also return after being named to the All-Big 12 Freshman Team in 2019.
Iowa State is led by first-year coach Matt Fannon, who guided Bowling Green to a 41-18-7 mark in the last three seasons. The three-time reigning Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year led the Falcons to NCAA Tournament berths in each of the last two campaigns.
The Cyclones finished 3-15 last fall, including an 0-9 mark in Big 12 play. Senior forward Courtney Powell returns to the team after leading ISU in goals (4), points (8), shots (29) and shots on goal (13) last season.
West Virginia’s current roster features 22 field players and three keepers.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 in 2019, when it was 12-8-2 overall and 5-3-1 in the Big 12, WVU is hoping to outperform its No. 4 preseason prediction in this year’s coaches’ poll.
“It’s challenging, because everything has changed so much,” admitted Brown. “Our players just have to focus on what they can control. One day the schedule doesn’t count, but oh now it does count. We don’t have an NCAA Tournament, oh maybe now we will. We’re just going day to day. We’re going to compete. We’re going to get better. Every opportunity to win, we’re going after it.
“Whatever happens beyond our control is beyond our control,” added Brown, whose 25-player roster consists of seven freshmen, 10 sophomores, seven juniors and one senior. “That’s especially difficult with a young team, because they just don’t know.
“There are a lot of question marks, but there is a lot of enthusiasm as well.”