WVU Women’s Soccer Season Still Features Many Questions
Nikki Izzo-Brown has been West Virginia’s women’s soccer coach for 25 seasons.
She hopes season number 26 takes place this fall, but in a world left in disarray because of COVID-19, there are few definites and many questions.
“What the NCAA has said to us is they want women’s soccer to have a championship (this year),” explained Izzo-Brown, who has been the only head coach WVU’s program has known since it started in 1995. “So, we know the NCAA wants us to have a championship, and we know we have to have at least 14 games to crown a champion. I know that, though of course things can always change.
“So, I’m very hopeful that we will have some type of season,” she added. “Now they’ve also mentioned that if it gets delayed or cancelled in the fall, it will pick back up in the spring.
“If we kick off (this fall) and then there is another spike and we have to pick back up in the spring, God knows how that will look, but I’m going to be flexible and open-minded.”
Izzo-Brown has led WVU to 20 straight NCAA Tournament berths, including a run to the national championship game in 2016. With a young team that featured just four seniors last season, the Mountaineers were 12-8-2. They had a strong finish, winning their first two matches in the NCAAs to advance to the Sweet 16 before seeing their season end with a 3-0 loss to Washington State.
West Virginia returns 10 players with 10 or more starts last year, but their development was hampered when their spring practice was cut short in mid-March. They were also supposed to participate in several exhibition games this summer during a foreign tour of northern Italy, but that trip has been canceled.
After WVU closed its doors to in-person classes on March 18, most of the Mountaineers scattered to their hometowns. They finished their academic work for the spring semester online and have tried to stay in shape with individual workouts.
At some point the team will be allowed to reassemble and again start preparing for the 2020 season, though exactly when is still up in the air.
Izzo-Brown certainly wants to get her student-athletes back in Morgantown, and she also wants enough preparation time to make sure they are ready for the rigors ahead.
Conditioning will be the key.
“That’s been a huge concern of mine since we missed the spring season,” said Brown when asked if her players will be in shape. “Spring is when we develop the athlete in the weight room and through conditioning, when we improve physically, which also helps prevent injuries. But we missed all that. So you move into the summer months, and kids can’t play right now. Some don’t have any access to weights or anything like that.
“Last week the Bundesliga, which is the German professional league, was the first one in soccer to kick off, and they had so many injuries. That’s what concerns me. We all want to play, and I know our kids are like, ‘I don’t care, Coach. I want to play. We could train for two days and I just want to go.’ But we have to look at our preparation time, and I’ve never really had to worry about it in this manner before.
“Normally we bring them together, and our preseason is about two weeks,” continued Izzo-Brown, who holds a 352-119-55 record in her time at West Virginia. “My hope is it’s not less than two weeks. If it’s a little bit more, of course I’ll be happy with that. I don’t think the NCAA will allow us to do anything less than two weeks for our preseason. I don’t want to be greedy, so whatever they decide, we’ll work with. But I am very concerned about the health of the athlete, and we have to be very mindful of that. I’m not greedy, but I also don’t want to see a lot of injuries. I think the Bundesliga showed the issues we could face when we get back into it.”
Once the Mountaineers are able to get their season started, Izzo-Brown said 2020 her team will have to use all its pieces – “sub, sub, sub,” she noted about her strategy.
“We’ll need a big roster this year,” the veteran coach stated. “We’ll need to make sure every soldier is ready.”
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The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were slated to begin in a couple months, but those games have been pushed back a year because of the coronavirus. Instead they will be held in Japan from July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.
A number of former Mountaineer women’s soccer players are likely to participate for their respective national teams when (if?) those Olympics do take place.
The Canadian duo of Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan will almost certainly be members of their national team, as they were during the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Lawrence, who was voted the Canadian Women’s Player of the Year in 2019, has been playing professionally for Paris Saint-Germain in France the past four seasons. Buchanan, who earned the Canadian Women’s Player of the Year award in both 2015 and ’17, has also been playing professionally in France the past four seasons as a member of Olympique Lyonnais.
Beyond Lawrence and Buchanan, a number of other former Mountaineers also could be participating in next year’s Olympics. Izzo-Brown said that Michaela Abam and Easther Mayi Kith each have opportunities to make the senior national team for Cameroon, while Rylee Foster and Bianca St. Georges have a chance of joining Lawrence and Buchanan on the Canadian team.