MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Nikki Izzo-Brown hasn’t found herself as the underdog very often in her career, but now she and her team are looking to prove some doubters wrong in the NCAA Tournament.
The 7th-seeded WVU women’s soccer team travels north of the border to face 2-seed Penn State at the Nittany Lions’ Jeffrey Field on Friday. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. ET and it will be shown on ESPN+.
The Mountaineers’ underdog status is apparent throughout Dreamswork Field, the team’s practice facility. Team staff has made sure to post a particular bracket prediction by a pundit before the start of the tournament. The lower-righthand corner of the bracket is highlighted in yellow: it shows Virginia Tech beating West Virginia, punching a ticket to face Penn State.
That, of course, never materialized.
West Virginia earned its spot in the second round after blasting past the Hokies 2-0 in the first round on Sunday. The Mountaineers picked up goals from Aria Bilal and Isabel Loza, both of whom notched their first scores of the season.
They next travel to a white-hot Penn State squad that took a 4-1 win over Quinnipiac in the NCAA First Round after winning the Big Ten Tournament. WVU has the shot at revenge on Friday as the two teams squared off in August in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions won that clash 2-0, but a lot has changed in the nearly 85 days between the two fixtures.
“I think that at that point in the season, we were just trying to figure out who was in what position and how you’re supposed to do it,” Izzo-Brown said. “Over the course of the season, everybody has bought in and has been all in to worrying about their job and being the best version in that position.”
West Virginia had a rocky bit of form after the loss to Penn State, piecing together wins between draws and losses until the final stretch of the campaign. The Mountaineers caught fire to win the Big 12 Tournament and currently hold an eight-game unbeaten streak, including seven victories.
Penn State was dominant throughout their schedule behind the best offense in the Big Ten, scoring two goals per game.
“They’re a high-paced, high-speed of play type of team and we saw that, so we know that matchup,” Izzo-Brown said. “But both teams are different, better or worse, but I definitely can take that away, that if you give them an inch, they’re going to finish.”
Any Mountaineer fans eyeing the team’s path to a potential title will take notice of the opponents in the way. Besides Pitt, Virginia Tech and Penn State are two of West Virginia’s fiercest rivals historically, but their friction has lost some heat in other sports as the schools move away from one another athletically.
For Izzo-Brown, those rivalries are still alive, especially with the Nittany Lions. WVU has faced Penn State 21 times since 2003, and the programs have played relatively evenly: seven wins for WVU, 11 for Penn State plus three draws.
“I think if you had [Penn State coach] Erica [Dambach] next to me, we have mutual respect for each other, but when you talk rivalry, it’s there, it’s present,” Izzo-Brown said. “Because it’s such a big game because we know that two giants are facing off, Big 12 and Big Ten giants. We know how competitive this game is going to be and how much we loathe each other but also respect each other.”
WVU and Penn State will face in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time on Friday. The Nittany Lions also lead that series 3-2.
Kickoff in the NCAA Second Round is set for 4:30 p.m. ET. The game will be shown on ESPN+.