MORGANTOWN, W.Va (GBN) — WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons said last week that WVU has become a soccer school in a soccer state.
It’s true that Dan Stratford and the Mountaineers are playing great soccer right now, and they’re accomplishing things never achieved before by the program.
Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Lehigh extended the team’s season-opening undefeated streak to 10 games, the longest unbeaten streak to start a season in the program’s 60-year history. The Mountaineers (6-0-4, 0-0-1 MAC) are undefeated in their last 12 contests dating back to last season.
Here’s a closer look at the boxes this team has already checked, as well as other accomplishments that could still be attainable.
A record-setting start
WVU’s 10-match unbeaten streak to start the season is now the best start in program history, topping a nine-match unbeaten streak in 1968. That season, the Mountaineers played to a 1-1 draw in their season opener against Wooster, and then went on to win eight matches in a row.
West Virginia has always played a regional schedule in men’s soccer, and a handful of opponents from that 1968 season also popped back up on the schedule for the Mountaineers this fall. During both of those historic season-opening unbeaten streaks, the Mountaineers earned wins against Pitt, Penn State and Ohio State.
The program’s third-longest unbeaten streak to open a season came in 2006. Stratford played on that team.
Among the nation’s best
Stratford’s side began the week at No. 4 in the United Soccer Coaches poll. In the previous ranking, the Mountaineers held the No. 3 spot, marking their highest-ever ranking in the poll of record for Division I men’s soccer. WVU dropped a spot this week after playing Akron to a scoreless draw in the MAC opener.
As of Wednesday afternoon, only West Virginia and six other ranked teams in the United Soccer Coaches poll still sport an undefeated record. Three of those teams — No. 1 Georgetown (8-0-0), No. 8 Kentucky (7-0-2) and No. 14 St. Louis (7-0-3) — play games Wednesday night.
So, when was the last time WVU was this good?
The answer to this question depends on the metric used to determine success. The Mountaineers have fielded some good teams in recent years, but as previously explained, only a few seasons in program history can match the success that the 2021 unit has already enjoyed.
WVU hasn’t had a chance to compete for a trophy yet this season, as MAC play only began last week, but the team did win the MAC regular season title in 2018 and the MAC tournament title in 2019. Both of those teams reached the NCAA Tournament and were led by former WVU skipper Marlon LeBlanc.
In terms of overall undefeated streaks, though, this unit is up there among the program’s best.
West Virginia’s 12-match overall unbeaten streak, which dates back to last spring, is tied for second-best in program history. In 1966, the Mountaineers won an astonishing 12 consecutive matches, a mark that stands as the program’s longest single-season winning streak and unbeaten streak. Though WVU isn’t currently on a winning streak, those two marks are even in terms of overall unbeaten streaks.
But the program’s longest overall unbeaten streak occurred during the 1967 and 1968 seasons. The Mountaineers ended their ’67 campaign by winning their final eight matches, opened the ’68 season with a draw and then won their next eight contests to compile a 17-match unbeaten streak.
This season’s 10-match unbeaten streak is just the program’s fifth single-season unbeaten streak of 10 games or more. Most recently, the Mountaineers went undefeated in 10 consecutive matches in 2006, when Stratford and assistants Andy Wright and Nick Noble guided the team to the Big East regular season title.
Technically, the record book views that stretch at the end of the 2006 regular season as a nine-match winning streak and 10-match unbeaten streak. The 10th match in the streak, a Big East tournament tilt with Rutgers, ended in a scoreless draw, but the Mountaineers ultimately won the contest 4-1 on penalties, advancing in the bracket.
Has WVU ever had an unbeaten regular season?
Remember that 1968 campaign that previously held the record for the program’s longest unbeaten streak to start a season? The Mountaineers ended that regular season without a loss — they only played nine games.
That WVU squad also earned the program’s second NCAA berth, but the Mountaineers were bounced from the tournament in the first round by St. Louis.
This season, until the Mountaineers lose, a second unbeaten regular season for the program will still be attainable. The squad, though, still has a lot of work to do.
The Mountaineers will take on No. 8 Kentucky, a fellow unbeaten, on Oct. 19. Five of West Virginia’s other six remaining opponents are MAC foes.
While Tuesday’s draw against Lehigh kept the team’s unbeaten streak alive, it was a disappointing result against a team that had lost eight of 10 entering the fixture. Afterward, Stratford said the Mountaineers “still have some strides to make in terms of a ruthless mentality.”
If his players can make those strides soon, these team will be in position to make more program history.