MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When the No. 13 ranked West Virginia women’s soccer team rolls into Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow evening for its season opener with No. 10 Virginia, the teams shouldn’t be able to spring many surprises on one another.
The two are quite familiar with each other already, having met on the soccer field every season since 2001.
“They know us well and we know them too well,” says Mountaineer defender Mallory Smith. “It’s always a competitive match and we go head-to-head in all areas of the field.”
The recognizable play of one another has created an exciting and competitive atmosphere when squaring off. In 13 meetings all-time between the two programs, 10 matches have been decided by one goal or less.
“It has become sort of a fun and healthy rivalry,” says WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “It’s a competitive series now and something I know (Virginia coach) Steve (Swanson) and I look forward to. I think fans can expect a great game each time our teams meet on the field.”
Both teams are anxious to prove themselves in an official game after exhibition wins this past week.
“There is no question I know the girls are excited to play a live game,” says Izzo-Brown, now in her 16th season at WVU. “I know our staff is anxious to see where we stand against a quality program like Virginia.
“I’ve seen dramatic improvement from the first few days (of preseason) until now. It’s a process and we’ve made great strides, yet still have a long way to go.”
The Mountaineers return 84 percent of its goals and 89 percent of its assists this fall. Forward Blake Miller returns for her senior season after leading WVU in goals (10), assists (9) and points (29) a year ago.
The West Virginia offense will look to score on sixth-year senior and MAC Hermann Trophy candidate Chantel Jones. The Cavalier goalkeeper enters this season with a school-record 33 career shutouts, two shy of the ACC career record.
Pacing the Virginia offense is sophomore forward Gloria Douglas. She recorded seven goals and three assists while being named to the ACC All-Freshman Team in 2010. The Cavaliers will also look for contributions from freshman midfielder Morgan Brian, the 2010-11Gatorade National Female High School Athlete of the Year.
West Virginia returns all four starters along its back line as seniors Drea Barklage, Erica Henderson and Meghan Lewis and junior McCarthy each started all 24 matches last year. The 2010 defense set the single season record for shutouts at 14 with its clean sheet against Morehead State in NCAA first round action.
The Mountaineers are 2-1-1 in their last four meeting with the Cavaliers, including a thrilling 1-0 victory over No. 5 Virginia last season in Morgantown.
“It was an awesome feeling and I think every emotion ran through me,” says Smith. “The team was excited and everyone was ecstatic about the win.”
Tomorrow’s road match will perhaps be a bit more challenging. West Virginia’s lone victory at Klöckner Stadium was a 2-1 win in 2002.
“We are going to have to play very well to beat Virginia at home,” says Izzo-Brown. “They are talented and well coached. We’ll need to finish our opportunities and that is something we’ve been working on.
“We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Whether it’s turning the ball over or not connecting our passes, we need to eliminate our own mistakes. That will be key for us on Friday night.”
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Fans can listen live to a radio broadcast by signing up for an account via Mountaineer.TV.