WVU Athletics: Building program from scratch nothing new

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Nikki Izzo-Brown wanted to be there last week when West Virginia introduced Sean Covich as the coach in charge of reviving the school’s long-dormant golf program. Just as the women’s soccer coach was ready to leave her office and head to the press conference at the Coliseum, her phone rang and a conversation with a recruit gobbled up her free time.

That’s life for Izzo-Brown and that’s what Covich will get to know quite well quite soon. One of his main aims will be to build a roster of players worthy of a share of the 4 1/2 scholarships he gets to grant. Izzo-Brown had the same goal when she was hired as the school’s first women’s coach in 1995.

“The difference, I guess,” Izzo-Brown said, “is he needs five and I needed 25.”

No, Izzo-Brown hasn’t met Covich yet, but nobody on campus knows more about what Covich must do before his team tees off for the first time in 2015. Golf was a sport at WVU from 1933-82.

“It definitely brings back some memories to where I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Izzo-Brown said. “He’s definitely going to have some uphill battles. Hopefully he’s going to have an office.”

Izzo-Brown didn’t really have an office when she started, much like she didn’t really have a team when she started. The 1995 year was spent preparing for the inaugural season a year later. The space between her hiring and her first match was filled with a lot of what might ordinarily be called office time.

“The university and the athletic department, it was a different time, but they didn’t have an office for me or Ed Dickson,” Izzo-Brown said of her arrangement with the former men’s tennis coach. “We had this one small space, and a lot of people were squished into what was a wash room in the Coliseum that they turned into office space.

“It’s kind of funny now, but there was a sink in there and a mirror. I always told Ed, ‘We’re going to be the cleanest, best-groomed coaches in America because of this office.’”

It’s similar at the start for Covich, if only temporarily.

“We don’t even have golf balls and golf bags yet,” he said. “I don’t even have an office, which is fine, but it’s going to be a lot of improvising and that’s the cool thing. You can create it and build it from scratch.”

Izzo-Brown has her own office in her own building now and she’s built one of the country’s best programs. Her Mountaineers have been to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments and won the Big 12 title their first two seasons in the new conference after winning Big East titles the final two seasons in that conference.

It took time, though. WVU was 10-7-2 in the debut season and 4-4-1 in the Big East, which was a good look for a new program. The Mountaineers were shut out in all seven losses, though, including 12-0 against UConn and 11-0 against Notre Dame, which was the defending national champion. Only 56 people came to Mountaineer Field for the season finale, a 4-0 loss to Navy. She won 11, 11 and nine matches the next three seasons. She’s averaged 15 wins and has won 10 or more matches in every season since.

“Progress, be patient, be positive,” Izzo-Brown said. “Those three Ps are going to be huge in his world.”

WVU practiced at a shoddy complex far from campus and was something of an unwelcome guest playing games on the football field that first season. Izzo-Brown knew visitors and conference peers weren’t impressed either, even when the team moved to the Mountaineer Soccer Complex in 1997.

The Mountaineers played host to first-round games for the first time in the 2001 NCAA tournament. On the eve of the tournament, Maryland’s staff was getting to know the place, which was just a humble little field without many seats or other features.

“They asked if our game field was our practice field or our game field,” Izzo-Brown said. “I kind of laughed, but those are the little steps people forget we went through.”

Izzo-Brown said many high schools she visited had facilities better than what she had. That changed when Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium opened in 2004. It seats 1,650 and has a grandstand, concession stands and a five-booth press box.

Her team had already played in four consecutive NCAA tournaments and reached the Sweet Sixteen once, but the stadium was the sort of thing to give her program permanency. The same figures to hold true for Covich, who for now doesn’t know where he’ll play or practice or what he can tell recruits about both.

“I think when you get kids on campus, they want to see,” Izzo-Brown said. “It’s one thing to say something. It’s a whole other thing to talk about it and then to show it to them and for them to kind of see it and touch it. I think it’s going to be critical for them to have somewhere they can be with their recruits that can reflect his plan and his goals.”

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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