It has been a big week for the best coach at West Virginia University.
When Canada took on Cameroon on Monday in the Women’s World Cup group stage, three former Mountaineers — Cameroon’s Michela Abam along with Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence — were on the rosters for the game with WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown in the stands at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier, France.
Abam was a reserve for Cameroon and didn’t get to play Monday, but Lawrence and Buchanan — both standouts in France’s Division 1 Féminine, considered by many to be the top professional women’s league on the planet — were starters for the Canadians and participating in their second World Cup.
Just having one player reach the pinnacle of their sport would be a nice feather in the cap of any WVU program, but three in the same game on the sport’s biggest stage? It’s a testament to the job Izzo-Brown has done establishing the Mountaineers as one of the top women’s soccer programs in the country and making Morgantown a pipeline to the World Cup.
Of course, that’s not the end of West Virginia’s day in the spotlight in France. Buchanan — by any measure the best player in WVU program history and perhaps even one of the best athletes in any sport to come through WVU — came up from her center back position for a Canada corner kick late in the first half and got her head on a ball served into the penalty area. The ball found the back of the net, and the Canadians held Cameroon scoreless the rest of the way for a 1-0 win.
There are Mountaineers participating in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball — you name the professional sport, and there is probably a former WVU player somewhere in the league — but no program in Morgantown has put its players among the best in the world like the women’s soccer team has. Until that starts happening in football, basketball or baseball, Izzo-Brown should be the undisputed queen for the West Virginia athletic department. The next statue they build in Morganotwn should be of Nikki Izzo-Brown.
Since everyone else seems to have an opinion on the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission’s proposal to split basketball into four classes, allow me to offer mine.
It’s a terrible idea. As my colleagues Ryan Pritt and Chuck Landon have pointed in recent days, the plan seems especially unfair to Winfield, but let’s call this thing what it really is. This is only an issue because a vocal group of people are upset about private schools winning a bunch of Class A state titles.
Should the private schools be in their own classification? Again, that is a terrible idea. If you thought Charleston Catholic and Wheeling Central won a lot of state titles before, just wait until they only have to go through the same 10 or 15 teams to do it.
It will never happen in West Virginia because there is too much money involved and too many hands in the cookie jar, but if the WVSSAC is dead-set on changing the basketball format, then I say go the Kentucky route.
Our neighbors in the Bluegrass State crown one state champion for boys basketball and one state champion for girls basketball. No classes, no small-school division, no private-school division. Kentucky takes all of that out of the equation and determines which team really is the best in state every spring.
Also, it’s not like the private schools are sweeping through everything these days. Moorefield just won a Class A baseball title by beating Charleston Catholic. The Webster County boys basketball team just posted the first 28-0 season in West Virginia high school basketball history and beat Parkersburg Catholic in the Class A title game.
If you want to compete for state titles in any class, it takes more than just talent at the top. Programs and communities that put the time and effort into developing not just their high school teams but the middle schools and youth leagues in their area tend to be better represented when those kids get to high school. If one player transfers from your team to a private school and it wrecks your roster, you weren’t a very good program to begin with and probably wouldn’t have been competing for a state title anyway.
I’ll wrap this up by sending condolences to all of those who had their lives touched by Tony Harris, who died on June 1.
I didn’t know Tony well, but I spent enough time on Capital High football sidelines to get to know him some. Seeing the outpouring of love and fond memories from former players and friends for Tony was touching.
Say what you want about play calls, wins or losses, but no prep football program I’ve been around is as tight-knit as Capital’s, and those Cougar sidelines on a Friday night — with guys like Woody Woods, “Big Muss” David Kinney, Bobby Johnson, David Harvey and so many others — won’t be the same without Tony and his camouflage pants keeping the team’s spirits high.
Rest in peace, “Tone.” The Kanwaha Valley sports family will miss you.