NCAA Tournament Preview

  • November 12, 2009 02:46 PM
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By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
November 12, 2009


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University women’s soccer team faces Loyola (Md.) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Nov. 13, at W. Dennie Spry Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

  Nikki Izzo-Brown's Mountaineers are making their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

The Mountaineers are making their 10th consecutive postseason appearance which is tied for the ninth longest streak in the nation. WVU also has a moderate postseason history against the Greyhounds of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, outscoring them 7-2 in two NCAA matches in 2002 and 2003.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said of the team’s first-round draw. “You know so much about conference schools and you do so much research and you get a feel for Big East schools, so I think it’s going to be nice to play someone different and get a different look. Loyola has a strong tradition of soccer and success, and I know it’s going to be a battle so we’re excited to get the game underway.”

WVU finished the season with a 9-6-6 overall record, including a 5-3-3 mark in the Big East. Its grueling schedule included 11 current NCAA Tournament participants, highlighted by victories over Marquette (1-0), Rutgers (1-0), St. John’s (1-0) and at Penn State (2-1).

The match up with Loyola marks the fifth consecutive weekend that WVU has played away from Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. The Mountaineers ended their home season with a win over then-No. 11 St. John’s, then played six straight matches on the road where they finished 2-2-2. WVU’s seventh straight match away from Morgantown ties the school record with the 2005 squad.

WVU enters postseason with a remarkably young team. It has started 10 different freshmen or sophomores so far this season, and just five players on the current squad have started an NCAA postseason match.

“I think with a young team anything can happen,” Izzo-Brown noted. “I think with our experience going to the Big East championship and losing and knowing we were done for the tournament was a great lesson and hopefully we bring that lesson to the NCAA Tournament. Any time you go through an experience for the first time it’s difficult, and hopefully I’ll do my job and make sure they’re prepared.”

Junior forward Megan Mischler, a third-team all-Big East performer, leads WVU with 12 points this season and a team-best five goals. First-team player and TopDrawerSoccer Team of the Season member Carolyn Blank has enjoyed another superb year in the midfield, tallying three goals. Third-team performer Nicole Mailloux, also a senior, helps anchor a back line that gives WVU a No. 15 ranking in goals-against average (0.58) and the 17th spot in shutout percentage (57 percent).

Junior goalkeeper Kerri Butler helped propel the Mountaineers to another NCAA postseason appearance with her solid play between the posts. The Fredericksburg, Va., native has recorded 11 shutouts this season and allowed just 13 goals in 21 matches.

WVU makes a return trip to Wake Forest University, where the winner will await the No. 3-seeded Wake Forest-Kennesaw State winner on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. The Mountaineers’ North Carolina region bid marks the second time in four seasons that WVU has played in Winston Salem, losing to Virginia, 2-0, in 2006.

“It’s nice to mix it up a bit,” Izzo-Brown said of playing at different sites. “I think with us going to Virginia or Penn State in recent years, it’s nice to change it up. We were at Wake Forest three years ago, and with geographic restrictions we knew we’d be somewhere close. I’m happy to be down at Wake Forest and get this NCAA Tournament underway.”

Loyola enters the NCAA Tournament with a 14-match unbeaten streak (12-0-2), the longest in school history. The Greyhounds earned an automatic berth after winning the MAAC Championship in come-from-behind fashion against Niagara, 3-2.

The Greyhounds are 1-2-1 against four teams that earned bids to this year’s postseason, highlighted by a 3-0 victory over Big South champion High Point and a 1-1 tie with American East champion Boston University. Forward Theresa Ferraina was named the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, while goalkeeper Brittany Henderson took defensive player of the year honors.

“We are very focused on this first round game and nothing else,” Izzo-Brown said. “It is that time of year where nothing else matters except the next 90 minutes. We are in a comfortable routine after being on the road for our last seven games. Our ladies are excited to be playing in the NCAAs and we’ll be ready to play come Friday afternoon.”

Fans can follow Friday’s match against Loyola through CBS Sports Gametracker. Kickoff is 3 pm.