Non-conference play was a learning experience for West Virginia women’s soccer. Nearly every week, Nikki Izzo-Brown’s squad faced a top opponent — and more often than not, they did not get a win.
Luckily for them, the Mountaineers enter their bread-and-butter: Big 12 play. West Virginia has taken home five of the seven regular-season championships since they’ve joined the conference, including an unprecedented clean sweep in 2016.
With a different roster makeup than she’s had, though, Izzo-Brown is taking a different approach heading into league play.
“I’m gonna your biggest competitor out there, and I hate to lose more than I love to win,” she said. “But I know that being in this and learning from these losses is gonna be huge in the Big 12, so I’m like, ‘Okay, even though it happened, how can we turn this over into Big 12 play?'”
The beginning of their season was a gauntlet, including four games against opponents in the top 15, three of which were on the road. In those away matchups, they fell by an average of 2.67 goals — many of those margins would come from early deficits. They proved they could hang at home though, taking No. 8 Penn State to two overtimes and a draw.
Now, the 3-3-1 Mountaineers have a pair of home games against Fairleigh Dickinson and Bowling Green to close out the slate before hosting their first Big 12 foe, Iowa State. In order to get on a good swing into the tough conference schedule, senior keeper Rylee Foster says it’s important to take two wins this weekend.
“I think it’s really important for us to just stick to our gameplans that we’ve been working on in our practices and stuff and kind of establish our unit,” she said. “[We have to] get some wins out of this weekend and get our confidence built up again before we go back into Big 12 play and hang with some really good teams.”
Foster’s coach says that getting those wins won’t exactly be a walk in the park.
“Fairleigh Dickinson is a team that is very, very good,” Izzo-Brown said. “They have a lot of foreign players that play at a very high level. We need to just do our jobs and focus on the little things that make the big things happen.”
The Mountaineers face Fairleigh Dickinson (2-4-3) on Friday night. As Izzo-Brown said, the Knights cast their recruiting net wide — from North America, to Australia, Israel, to all over Europe. That hasn’t turned into a lot of success on the field yet this year, though, as they’ve also struggled through their non-conference schedule despite being a top team in several statistical categories in the Northeast Conference.
Bowling Green visits WVU on Sunday, hoping to get their first win in three games. The Falcons are led offensively by Nikki Cox, who is tied for the lead in the Mid-American Conference in points with 9.
Ultimately, Izzo-Brown has maintained the same message through the whole season: the only thing her team needs to focus on is West Virginia soccer.
“We want to make sure that every player does their job,” she said. “Rylee doesn’t need to score goals, but she certainly needs to get shut outs. So that’s the main goal, and we worked really hard yesterday and we’re gonna continue to work on the little things that make the big things happen.”