San Jose, Calif. – Patience is a virtue.
There is little doubt that the West Virginia University women’s soccer program is more than familiar with the well-known adage.
The Mountaineers have never played a match in the month of December prior to this weekend’s NCAA College Cup appearance. They came close. Just last season, they surged ahead to the No. 2 national ranking, claimed another Big 12 Conference regular-season trophy, strung together a 16-match unbeaten streak….and fell just short of the goal, bowing out of the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a 2-0 loss at eventual National Champion Penn State on Nov. 28.
Nine seasons ago, the program legitimized itself as an annual threat, as the Mountaineers claimed their first Big East Conference Championship with a 1-1 draw against Notre Dame on Nov. 11, 2007, at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Three straight wins, including a 1-0 victory at Penn State on Nov. 24, pushed the Mountaineers into the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals for the first time in program history. Playing in front of 3,000+ fans, the Mountaineers fell, 1-0, to eventual National Champion USC, on Nov. 30.
The Mountaineers have had their chances over the years, but never before have they capitalized on the opportunities like they have this season.
Simply put, the 2016 WVU women’s soccer team is special. Whether the qualifier is wins (23), shutouts (18), All-Americans (3) or conference titles (2), there’s no denying that this squad is unlike any that came before it.
To steal coach Nikki Izzo-Brown’s favorite descriptor, the 2016 Mountaineers have an iron will that cannot be deterred. The examples are plenty. In her 21st season with the program she founded in 1995, Izzo-Brown, the five-time reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year, has utilized 10 different starting lineups. The very first lineup of the season came back from a 1-0 deficit to earn a 1-1 draw in front of 5,791 fans at defending NCAA champion Penn State on Aug. 19. Six games later, WVU justified its claim as a serious contender for the 2016 national title with a 3-1 victory at No. 6 Duke on Sept. 9, again with a different lineup then the one used in the week prior.
The program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking followed the win, but the moment was sullied by a narrow, 1-0, double-overtime defeat to No. 9 Georgetown on Sept. 18, at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. The loss snapped a 30-match unbeaten streak in home matches, but not the Mountaineers’ resolve, as they followed with a 4-1 win at Richmond on Sept. 23 and then promptly did what no other program before them had accomplished – posted a shutout season against Big 12 opposition. WVU held its eight conference foes to a combined 15 shots on-goal, with all but Texas placing two of fewer chances on-frame.
The season tests came fast and furious soon after the team claimed its fifth straight conference regular-season title. The Mountaineers faced their first two-goal deficit of the year on Nov. 6, as TCU tallied two early scores in the Big 12 Championship title match. The now-famous iron will shined bright that day, as the Mountaineers clawed their way back into the match, and goals from All-Americans Michaela Abam
, Buchanan and Lawrence, in overtime, locked up the team’s conference sweep.
For its efforts, WVU was awarded the program’s first NCAA Tournament No. 1 regional seed. The squad quickly dispatched of Northern Kentucky, 3-0, on Nov. 12. Ohio State proved to be a tougher challenge, forcing the Mountaineers into overtime, but a brilliant goal by Abam, the co-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, in the 104th minute, pushed the team into the third round in front of 2,471 fans in Morgantown.
Snow and a pesky UCLA team nearly derailed the Mountaineers in the third round. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute on Nov. 20, in Morgantown, WVU gave up a Bruin goal with 1:52 left to play in regulation. The team regrouped and forced a penalty-kick shootout. Junior goalkeeper Michelle Newhouse
came up big, making two stops, and Buchanan punched the team’s ticket to the quarterfinals with a make in the fifth round.
Advancing to the NCAA College Cup was not easy. WVU again clung to a one-goal lead, as junior midfielder Alli Magaletta
’s score in the 16th minute gave the Mountaineers a narrow edge against a determined Duke side. Freshman Rylee Foster
returned from the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup to make five stops, her highest save total since September, and the Mountaineers awarded 1,648 loyal fans with one final singing of “Country Roads” at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium with a 1-0 shutout against the Blue Devils.
A 1-0, statement-making win over No. 2-seed North Carolina in the College Cup Semifinal on Dec. 2 put the Mountaineers in their current position – hours away from potentially hoisting the program’s first-ever NCAA trophy. In only the second-ever meeting between the programs, WVU kicks against No. 7-ranked and second-seeded USC at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT, today, at Avaya Stadium, on ESPNU. The victor walks off the field with new hardware for its trophy case.
The Mountaineers play for history today. The Mountaineers play for their WVU women’s soccer family today. The Mountaineers play for all 3,000+ fans who attended the team’s first NCAA Quarterfinal match, and the 8,000+ fans who cheered for the team in Morgantown throughout the last month. Today, this team plays Mountaineer Nation.
The journey to this point was not quick for this program, and the path to this match was not easy for this team. Patience prevailed yet again, and tonight, the Mountaineers hope to cash in on years of hard work, perseverance and belief.