Michelle Newhouse knew this point in West Virginia University’s women’s soccer season would come. She knew there would be a time when Rylee Foster, who spent the majority of this season as WVU’s starting goalkeeper, would depart for Papua New Guinea and play for Canada in the U-20 World Cup. Newhouse knew there would be a point where that job would be hers.
That point came at the most crucial time in the Mountaineers’ season.
West Virginia would navigate the end of the regular season, Big 12 tournament and NCAA tournament with the junior from Pinch minding the net. And with Newhouse there, the Mountaineers are a win away from an unprecedented feat.
No. 1 WVU hosts No. 5 Duke at 3 p.m. Saturday in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. If the Mountaineers beat the Blue Devils — and WVU did that, 3-1, on Sept. 9 — they will qualify for the national semifinals for the first time in program history.
“Obviously, the pressure is there a little bit,” Newhouse said. “But this team has faced pressure before and we’ve dealt with it and overcome it. I don’t think we’re going to approach this weekend any differently.”
Newhouse, a former Capital High star, has faced plenty of pressure in the Mountaineers’ last four games. Three of them have gone to extra time. WVU beat TCU 3-2 in overtime to win the Big 12 tournament. In the second round of the NCAA tournament, WVU needed two overtimes to beat Ohio State 1-0.
And in the tournament’s round of 16, West Virginia and UCLA went to a penalty-kick shootout to decide a victor. That’s actually a spot in which Newhouse has been before. In 2014 against Texas in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, she came off the bench and turned away a pair of Longhorn chances to put the Mountaineers in the title game.
Last Sunday was much of the same. The junior swatted away a line-drive shot, then booted away a second to help put WVU in the Elite Eight.
“She was incredible in that pressure cooker,” WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said, “and kept up with her strengths.”
Her climb into the starting job could have presented its own pressure-filled moments. Yet Newhouse felt the way she took the role made it a more comfortable transition.
“Honestly, it makes it a little easier, coming out every day and training, knowing you’re going to get your shot,” she said. “Whereas other days, you’re not sure. It gives you something to work toward, a goal at the end that you’re trying to reach. Day in and day out, that makes it easier, but stepping in mid-season and the end of the season isn’t the easiest.”
Yet if it isn’t the easiest, Izzo-Brown said you couldn’t tell from Newhouse’s demeanor. She’s kept cool throughout the year, which has made her essential in the net in the postseason.
“Michelle doesn’t really flinch,” Izzo-Brown said. “She’s never too high, never too low. A kid like that, you could see where her personality really paid off. She knew she had a job to do. She wasn’t putting too much pressure on herself. She approached it the way she approaches everything, even keel.”
There’s a little bit of a different feeling for Newhouse as the Mountaineers prepare for their shot at the Final Four. The WVU roster is filled with players from across the country — New York, Texas, Florida among their homes. It includes seven from Canada and one player from France. It includes two West Virginians, Newhouse and Bridgeport native Amanda Saymon.
Newhouse knows how special it is to be a West Virginian and represent the Mountain State on a WVU roster. And she knows plenty of eyes will be on the Mountaineers from all over on Saturday.
“People are watching, people I didn’t even know until now,” Newhouse said. “It’s great to see so many people in the state, and outside of the state, support West Virginia. Mountaineers are everywhere, and being from West Virginia, it means a lot to put on a jersey with ‘Mountaineers’ on the back.”
A win Saturday gives her that experience for at least one more game.