Women's Soccer Preview
By Tim Goodenow for MSNsportsNET.com
July 29, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Chances are coach Nikki Izzo-Brown will not change her style of play on the pitch this fall. In fact, don't expect her players to temper their enthusiasm, either.
The West Virginia women’s soccer team, a year removed from winning its third-straight BIG EAST American Division titles, believes it will be collecting hardware again this season while pestering opposing teams in the process.
And if that comes with some passion, so be it.
"We're really looking forward to this season," says Izzo-Brown, now in her 15th year at WVU. "Our team showed its youth at times last season against a tough schedule. At the end of the season, however, we matured and developed into a better team.
“A lot of our team returns from a year ago, and I think this team has the talent, the drive and the passion to win. This team wants to win BIG EAST titles and make a run in the NCAA tournament.”
A successful campaign must begin with strong leadership. Izzo-Brown can lean on the shoulders of her six senior Mountaineers to step forward and direct the squad. Those include goalkeeper Kerri Butler, midfielders Cassandra Deitrick, Kristen Felice and Ashtin Larkin and forwards Sydney Metheny and Megan Mischler.
Mischler is one of four returning all-BIG EAST honorees on the roster. A third team all-league selection the last two seasons, Mischler is joined by forward Blake Miller and midfielders Bri Rodriguez and Caroline Szwed.
West Virginia struggled in front of the net at times last season, netting only 22 goals in 2009. Mischler and Miller have combined to score 25 goals for the Mountaineers, including Mischler’s team-leading five goals in 2009 and Miller’s team-best 10 goals in 2008.
“Soccer can be a funny game and we had some struggles scoring last year,” notes Izzo-Brown. “Teams are becoming more athletic and better defensively. It’s our job to fight through that and figure out how to create scoring chances and put the ball in the back of the net.
“This past spring we improved on a variety of areas such as improving our shape offensively, recognizing opportunities on the attack and finishing inside the 18 (-yard box). There was a lot of learning this spring to carry some offensive momentum into the fall. There are goal scorers on this team and they want to prove it.”
With their continued and increased production, the Mountaineers are still looking for the emergence from other midfielders and forwards to finish scoring opportunities.
In the mix for playing time at forward are several players with plenty of ability. Metheny, along with juniors Erica Henderson, Chelsey Corroto and Morgan Betscher, have all logged significant minutes in the Mountaineer attack.
Helping connect the back line and front lines is perhaps WVU’s strongest position on the field – the midfield. Anchoring two of those spots are 2009 BIG EAST all-Rookie Team selections Rodriguez and Szwed.
“Bri and Caroline are very good players with different styles,” says Izzo-Brown of her sophomore duo. “They learned so much being thrown into the fire as rookies. That experience, and another year of getting stronger and more fit, will be evident in their play as sophomores.”
Larkin, who saw action in 21 matches last season, is one of several players who can play multiple positions as Izzo-Brown looks to find a third midfielder.
Behind the midfield stands a staple of Izzo-Brown-coached teams – a gritty group of defenders. A few question may surface, however, as only junior Meghan Lewis returns. Lewis performed well in her first season as a defender, helping limit 10 different opponents to two shots on-goal or less in 2009.
“This is a position where somebody must step up and accept the challenge,” says Izzo-Brown whose teams have posted 13 shutouts in each of the last four seasons. “We played a lot of different combinations this spring. Bry (McCarthy) will do well at one outside back spot and Drea (Barklage) has the mentality of a center back that we are looking for. And Mallory (Smith) has looked good at times back there.”
McCarthy logged more than 1,100 minutes and made 12 starts at forward last season. She will change positions while Barklage arrives with 38 career starts as a junior transfer from St. Louis.
While Izzo-Brown works to find a perfect combination along her back line, the goalkeeper spot remains much more comfortable with an experienced netminder in senior Butler.
With 58 matches under her belt the past three seasons, Butler gives the Mountaineers a good communicator and solid decision-maker in front of the net. She made 72 saves and recorded a goals-against average of 0.666 last season, a ranking of 30th in the country.
“Kerri is coming off a tremendous spring and needs to be a leader for us,” states Izzo-Brown. “Kerri is poised for a great senior year and she has her sights set on breaking that career shutout record.”
With 30 career shutouts, Butler needs seven clean sheets to become WVU’s career shutouts leader, surpassing Lana Bannerman’s 36 total set from 2003-06.
The Mountaineers bring in seven newcomers to round out the 25-person team, where competition will be heavy for valuable minutes.
“There are several positions and several roles that are wide open,” notes Izzo-Brown. “Every day is a competition and you have to prove yourself to be able to contribute.”
Eight opponents on this year’s slate appeared in the 2009 NCAA tournament – Central Michigan, Connecticut, Marquette, Ohio State, Penn State, St. John’s, Villanova and Virginia.
“We are very excited to be playing such a competitive schedule," says coach Izzo-Brown. “Our team will be challenged early and as the season progresses with some tough BIG EAST competition.”
West Virginia will play nine matches this fall at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium and will take to the road for nine contests. WVU opens up the 2010 campaign at home against Penn State on Friday, Aug. 20.
WVU opens conference play against Pitt on Thursday, Sept. 16, in Morgantown.
The 2010 BIG EAST Women’s Soccer Championship begins on campus sites with first round action set for Thursday, Oct. 28, and quarterfinal action on Sunday, Oct. 31. Rutgers will play host to the BIG EAST semifinals and finals on Nov. 5-7.
One thing is certain – a hungry West Virginia team will take the field in 2010. Izzo-Brown has a team looking to use its skill, focus and perhaps most importantly, desire to be the best, to continue the program’s excellence of bringing home championships.
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