Everyone is learning to adapt during these trying times.
Coaches are often among those stuck in their ways, but with the restrictions that have come about because of the global pandemic, they’ve had to adjust to how they do things.
The normal ended in mid-March, and most everything since then has been about making modifications.
Nikki Izzo-Brown is the only women’s soccer coach West Virginia University has ever known. After just one year as the head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan in 1994 (where she posted a 13-5 record), the Rochester, New York, native was hired to build the Mountaineer program from the ground up. Since its infancy to today, Izzo-Brown has amassed a record of 352-119-52, earning 20 straight NCAA Tournament berths along the way.
The core of her early teams came from recruiting areas she already knew – Katie Barnes and Chrissie Abbott from Ohio, Lisa Stoia from New York.
But as the Mountaineer reputation grew, so did its recruiting circle, which included developing a pipeline into Canada in the mid-2000s. Dozens of players have come down to West Virginia from the U.S.’s northern neighbor – primarily from the Ontario area though many from Quebec as well – in the 15 years since first tapping that talented market. All-Americans Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence highlight that list of Canadian Mountaineers.
West Virginia’s current squad features a half dozen players from Canada, but it’s also expanded out to pull in prospects from England and Spain as well.
Accumulating all that skill has allowed Izzo-Brown to lead her Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 seven times, including four in the last five years. Part of that was a run to the national championship game in 2016.
Even in the midst of a global pandemic, recruiting doesn’t stop, and Izzo-Brown has had to learn some new tricks to adjust to the times.
Coaches currently are not allowed to go on the road to recruit, and prospects can’t take trips to campus. Thus technology has become the key piece in today’s recruiting.
“As old as I am – and I’m a dinosaur – I love FaceTiming recruits. I’m doing that a lot with recruits,” smiled Izzo-Brown, who is a 1993 graduate of the University of Rochester (NY). “Kids now are so text, text, text, but I just want to see them, so I prefer FaceTime.
“I’ve been doing that, and now the NCAA is allowing us to do virtual tours and things like that,” she added. “Depending on the year (of the prospect) and how many time we do it, we can even do Zoom with tactics and also team stuff. It’s been really interesting with how it’s all evolved. I’ve had to learn Zoom and screen sharing and all the fun things like that. The NCAA has opened things up for us, and I’ve had to open my mind to technology. I’m embracing it and doing whatever we can do to show these recruits what an awesome place West Virginia University is.”
WVU’s 2019 squad, which finished 12-8-2, featured just four seniors, but one of those was four-time all-Big 12 goalkeeper Rylee Foster. Sophomore Kayza Massey is the only goalie West Virginia has returning, so finding further help at that position was key for Izzo-Brown’s class of 2020. Katie Nester, an all-state goalie from Charleston Catholic (W.Va.) High School, signed with the Mountaineers during the early commitment period, and Jessica Kasacek, a goalie from Canterbury, Connecticut, signed in April. WVU also added another piece to the goalkeeping puzzle by getting Boston College transfer Maddie Murphy this spring. Murphy has two years of eligibility remaining.
“We definitely had a big need in goal after losing Rylee,” explained Izzo-Brown. “We have one returning goalkeeper, so that was first and foremost one of our biggest needs. We feel with Maddie, having that experience at a high level, it was a great opportunity for us to add someone to that position.”
West Virginia’s 11 newcomers still aren’t certain when they’ll be able to start at WVU, as the campus is currently closed to in-person classes because of the coronavirus. This group has two Canadians – Leonie Portelance from Quebec and Maya Ladhani from Ontario – but the other nine are U.S. residents, so getting student visas during these COVID-19 times doesn’t figure to be as difficult as it might otherwise have been when the Mountaineers had more international recruits.
“It’s not like all our kids are just coming from New Jersey, right? We’re fortunate this year in that we don’t have any freshmen that need special (student visas) from embassies and such. But there is a concern in getting everyone here,” noted Izzo-Brown. “We’re definitely looking closely at what it will take to get here and then how the University is going to deal with things.”
It’s all part of Izzo-Brown’s adaptation to the new world.