The West Virginia athletic calendar opens in Iowa on Friday night when the West Virginia women’s soccer team kicks off their 25th season against Iowa State.
Historically speaking, this matchup favors the Mountaineers by a wide margin: since joining the Big 12 Conference in 2012, West Virginia has beaten Iowa State in all of their eight matchups, including seven multi-goal performances. Congruently, WVU is undefeated in Big 12 openers with a 7-0-1 mark.
However, if this past offseason is any indication, history might mean very little in the Mountaineers’ 2020 campaign. WVU Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown has been very vocal about the new normal with her squad, but maintains that she and her players are more than ready to get the season going.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and excitement,” she said. “Obviously, we’d prefer to have a more experienced team in this whole situation, but I’m really proud of the way we’ve stepped up as a group and have recognized the things we can control.”
While the Mountaineers may be younger than her typical team this season, there’s no denying that they have more playing time under their belt than a year ago. This season, WVU is led by the captain trio of Grace Smith, Lauren Segalla and Jordan Brewster, all of whom will be competing as juniors.
“The passion and enthusiasm that they’re going to bring to this team is going to be exciting to watch,” Izzo-Brown said. “…Because I do think all three are different leaders, and I do think all three take this responsibility as a privilege and as an honor, and want to bring out the best in this team and will do whatever it takes.”
Brewster, a fullback, enters 2020 with a lot of attention at the regional and conference levels after starting all 22 matches in 2019 en route to an All-Big 12 Second Team honor. This preseason, she was once again named to the second team.
Smith and Segalla, on the other hand, will be making their returns to the pitch after they each suffered a season-ending or shortening injury. The midfielder Smith missed the whole season, while Segalla made five appearances before her year was cut short.
Segalla’s return is much-anticipated. The Connecticut native was a key piece to the Mountaineers’ 2018 squad, starting every game and logging a team runner-up 14 points, with 5 goals and 4 assists.
“I am really excited for Lauren Segalla,” Izzo-Brown said. “I really feel confident that she has done everything she could to come back, and to come back with a totally different mindset. I mean, she has this drive about her right now that there’s no setbacks and so she’s ready — 100 percent ready.”
Izzo-Brown is also anticipating the return of Julianne Vallerand, a sophomore who made a splash with five goals in seven matches. She too missed the latter part of the 2019 season with an injury, but not before netting a pair of braces.
Arguably the biggest question mark ahead of the 2020 season revolves around the recently-vacated goalkeeper position after the graduation of Rylee Foster, a four-year starter in net. It is currently a three-woman race for the starting job between Kayza Massey, who made four appearances last season; Maddie Murphy, who transferred to WVU after two years at Boston College; and true freshman Jessica Kasacek.
The head coach is keeping her cards close, saying that she won’t announce a starter until game time.
The Mountaineers, who were finished fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll, kick off against the Cyclones at 7 p.m. ET.
“We’re just going in as driven,” Izzo-Brown said. “We’re going to compete, we’re going to go hard, we’re going to get better, and everything opportunity we have to go win, we’re going to go after it.”