West Virginia’s women’s soccer team earned a No. 5 national seed and will face the winner of Rice and Furman when the Mountaineers travel to North Carolina for the NCAA Women’s Tournament. WVU was one of 48 teams selected to compete for this year’s College Cup.
In making her 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament at WVU, head coach Izzo-Brown has fashioned an outstanding accomplishment — one that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. She’s quick to share the credit with those around her.
“My staff has just been incredible this year,” Izzo-Brown explained. “And it’s girls that came here to continue the success, and win championships. They don’t want to be that team that doesn’t make it. It’s important to have very competitive players.”
During that two-decade run, Izzo-Brown has seen every sort of postseason preparation scenario. Short breaks or lengthy ones between the end of the regular season or conference event and the NCAAs, she’s ready with a positive outlook and a planned work schedule to have the team peaking at the right time.
“I have played such mind games with myself over the years,” she said with a laugh, while noting that she knows she’s fitting the preparation plan to the situation. “If we lose early in the Big 12 Tournament, I say ‘This is the best thing for us, we’re getting our rest, it’s going to be great.’ If we play on and win the tournament, it’s ‘We’re in great rhythm, and we’re going to be ready.’”
A self-aware laugh followed that statement, as Izzo-Brown knows there’s no one magic formula to follow. Every team over that 21 years has been different, and reading each group and figuring out the best preparation method is one of her many strengths. This time, it’s how to deal with the lengthy three-week break between WVU’s last game, a 0-0 draw against Virginia, and their tournament opener.
Preparing for the top flight competition in the postseason won’t be an issue, as West Virginia’s schedule has been a challenging one.
“I’m writing the narrative for the team,” she said of the work schedule to be followed before WVU’s first game. “I’m telling them, ‘We have to have intensity and training, and be in position to go 90-plus minutes.”
All games in the tournament will be played on the campuses of Campbell, East Carolina or UNCW, as well as in the cities of Cary, Greensboro, Wilson or Matthews, North Carolina, to help create a more protected environment and limit travel in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
WVU (10-2-1) will be the home team in its first contest, facing the winner of the Owl-Paladin match-up on May 1 at 3 p.m. The location for the Mountaineers’ game has not yet been announced. Rice and Furman play three days prior at the same time. Fan capacity will be limited to family and friends, with a maximum capacity of 25%.
Fellow Big 12 members TCU (No. 4, 11-1-1) and Oklahoma State (No. 10, 12-3-1) were also seeded teams in the 48-squad field. The Horned Frogs took the automatic Big 12 bid with a 8-0-1 conference mark.
The news on the men’s side was not as good, as the Mountaineers were not picked for the 36-team field despite a No. 7 RPI and a 6-3-1 record. West Virginia was likely hurt by a dearth of games, including the lack of a conference tournament (the MAC voted not to hold one this year, although a number of leagues did). Head coach Dan Stratford also pointed out that the cancellation of his team’s final regular season game, which was attended with some controversy, also had an effect on his team’s chances.
“(I am) very proud of the team’s efforts this Spring,” Stratford tweeted moments after learning his squad was not included. “I said that we would use this semester to learn about this group- and we learnt that we are a worthy @NCAASoccer tournament team, in a shortened field, despite today’s outcome. @WVUMensSoccer will leave no doubt, come Fall 2021.”
At large teams making the field included Charlotte (No. 29, 6-2-1), which West Virginia defeated, Kentucky (No. 63, 10-4-2), Maryland (No. 75, 4-4-2), North Carolina (No. 38, 7-4-3), Oregon State (No. 42, 7-4-0) and Virgina Tech (No. 56, 6-6-2).
The Mountaineers also had a 1-0 win over Marshall (No. 28, 7-2-1), which won C-USA’s automatic bid.