MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Over the last two and a half decades, Nikki Izzo-Brown has turned her WVU women’s soccer program into a national power.
Her squad has won 17 conference titles, earned bids to 21 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and reached the College Cup Final in 2016.
Though Dan Stratford is only in the midst of his second season with the men’s soccer program, WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons senses that he has the traits to build something similar with that team.
So far this season, Stratford’s squad has generated buzz. The Mountaineers are unbeaten in their first nine matches, they’ve earned results against ranked opponents like Pitt, Penn State and Marshall, and last week, they climbed into the No. 3 spot in the United Soccer Coaches poll, their highest ranking ever in Division I soccer’s poll of record.
With a move to Conference USA set for next season, Lyons thinks the program is becoming more attractive to top recruits.
“They have a great rapport among the coaching staff with the student-athletes,” Lyons said last week in an exclusive interview with Gold and Blue Nation. “So student-athletes from a soccer standpoint are gonna be excited to come to West Virginia and compete at a very high level. Again, that’s what we want in that program, and I think he can compete just like Nikki Izzo-Brown, year after year, and be a top program in the country.”
There’s no time like the present to build a perennial competitor at WVU. Lyons admits that West Virginia has become a “soccer state” in recent years, thanks in part to rival Marshall’s run to the national title last spring. As such, the competitive bar has been raised in the state, and among WVU’s future conference foes.
WVU’s move to Conference USA in 2022 will place the Mountaineers and Thundering Herd in the same league for men’s soccer. Under Stratford, WVU defeated Marshall 1-0 last spring and played to a 2-2 draw in Huntington last month. The latter match was a top-10 showdown.
Stratford and the Mountaineers open a four-match road trip Tuesday night at Lehigh. A win or a draw in that contest would extend the program’s undefeated streak to 10 matches, which would set a program record for longest such streak to begin a season.
Currently, the Mountaineers are off to their best start since 1968. The team opened that season with a draw, and then won eight matches in a row to complete the program’s only unbeaten regular season. WVU lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that year, concluding the campaign with an 8-1-1 overall record.