Nikki Izzo-Brown never lacks enthusiasm — but her motor is high as ever as her women’s soccer squad gets ready to start the WVU athletic calendar on Thursday against Buffalo at the Mountaineers’ Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
The Mountaineers will begin their quest to take back the Big 12 crown and make a run at the NCAA Tournament after the disappointing end to the 2020 season. Last year, the Mountaineers fell four points short of TCU for the conference title without a tournament. They still earned a 5-seed and a bye in the NCAA Tournament, but were sent home after falling in an upset to Rice in their opening matchup.
The Mountaineers have a lot to aim for in 2021, but of course, it all starts with the Bulls. History looks favorably upon West Virginia heading into Thursday’s clash, as it has won both of its contests against Buffalo dating back to 2015. That inaugural meeting was the only one to occur in Morgantown — WVU survived the Bulls 1-0 in an overtime thriller, before defeating them again a year later in University Park, Pennsylvania in regulation, 2-0.
Izzo-Brown and her squad have already gone head-to-head with some other teams in a series of preseason scrimmages, most recently against NC State in Blacksburg, Virginia. The 26-year head coach is never fully satisfied with her team’s play — especially in the preseason — but she did take away some major positives from their last tune-up.
“We felt that NC State was really moving the ball well, and we weren’t moving as well or connecting as well, and we were able to make that adjustment at halftime,” she said. “So I guess being able to reset and make sure that that second 45, we didn’t waste like we did in that first 45.”
WVU brings back several key returners for the season, mainly on the back and front lines. Jordan Brewster, the defending Big 12 Defender of the Year, retains her center back spot after earning All-Big 12 preseason honors along with goalkeeper Kayza Massey. They likely won’t lack goals, either, as 6-goal netter Alina Stahl looks to head the formation once again alongside veteran leaders Lauren Segalla, Julianne Vallerand, Nicole Payne and more.
Questions about the midfield will be answered on Thursday after the departure of Stefany Ferrer-vanGinkel, the attacking midfielder who tied Stahl with a team-high six goals a season ago. Izzo-Brown is confident in her returners, as well as an additional transfer who could make an immediate impact for WVU.
“You’re going to see Julie Lynch really stepping it up, Lilly McCarthy is coming back and then we definitely are really excited about Maya McCutcheon, who is a transfer from Oklahoma,” “So between the three, they’re definitely gonna give us what we’re gonna lack losing [Ferrer-vanGinkel], but I think all three are really working hard.”
Buffalo comes to Morgantown hungry after a disappointing 2020-21. The Bulls missed out on a MAC title shot after COVID-19 shrunk their schedule, knocking them out of contention due to technicality despite a 6-1-1 record.
That left an impression on the team — 22 players opted to return for 2021, which means they’ll have plenty of experience on the field when they kick off against the Mountaineers. Izzo-Brown, a native of nearby Rochester, New York, has a good familiarity with her upcoming opponent — especially their presumptive frequency at the Wegman’s, the area’s staple grocery store, and their enjoyment of chicken wings.
“They’re a team that has the talent in midfield, they’ve got a couple players that I know we even recruited, so they have the capabilities to come in and really possess the ball, but also disrupt us and find a way to make sure they’re going to win the game,” Izzo-Brown said. “They have the upstate New York mentality so I know they’re gonna have that grit and that fight in them, but also they have a lot of tools that we’ve gotta be careful of and make sure that we’re very compact with.”
Kickoff between Buffalo and West Virginia is set for Thursday at 5 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.