MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Timing, they say, is everything and somehow the timing just wasn’t right for the week Nikkie Izzo-Brown’s West Virginia women’s soccer team has had.
See, this was the week when March Madness was being played and it brought with it not only the greatest game in its history ended by perhaps the greatest shot, but the two of the worst games, at least from a West Virginia standpoint as the men were toppled by Syracuse and the women were just blown away by Georgia Tech.
What’s more, there were high-profile defections in both football and basketball dominating the news cycle and you know how it is in the news business, be it sports or politics, it seems as though bad news dominates over good news .. and all this women’s soccer team was doing was creating good news.
See, in one week, the Mountaineer women’s soccer team, ranked No. 4, knocked off No. 5 Duke, 3-2, and remained home for another Top 10 matchup, beating No. 10 Virginia at Dick Dlesk Stadium, 1-0, on a shot that may not quite have been as dramatic as Jalen Suggs’ buzzer-beater was for Gonzaga, but coming from England’s Isabella Sibley in the 86th minute was equally as effective.
For whatever reason, even as soccer continues to muscle its way into the national consciousness in America as youth leagues continue to flourish throughout, the sport has to battle almost as hard for news space as it does for victories ... and as it is with every Nikki Izzo-Brown team, that means it battles its heart out.
Izzo-Brown is the only coach women’s soccer has ever had at WVU, meaning she has coached the team for a quarter of a century now, assured of making her 21st consecutive appearance in the NCAA championships.
That alone would qualify her to claim a place among the top coaches ever to be employed by the WVU Athletic Department, but when you add to it that she has never had a losing season — a claim Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez or Dana Holgorsen can make in football or Gale Catlett, John Beilein and Bob Huggins can make in basketball.
In fact, Izzo-Brown’s career record of 362-121-55 produces a winning percentage of .705, which ranks second among WVU major sport coaches who won 100 games, only to Fred Schaus, who coached the Jerry West-led teams and in six years compiled a .798 winning percentage.
By comparison, Bob Huggins has a winning percentage of .644, John Beilein was .634, Gale Catlett .610, Don Nehlen .614, Rich Rodriguez .698, Dana Holgorsen .598, Bobby Bowden .618 and Jim Carlen .646.
And Izzo-Brown actually reached an NCAA final, went in with a No. 1 ranking, but lost to USC.
She has churned out All-Americans and professional players and done it by getting as much out of them as anyone we could.
This year’s group that is 9-2 this season — the two losses on the road to No. 3 TCU and No. 6 Oklahoma State — is doing in a season unlike any other due to COVID-19, which pushed it into the spring. It is a team typical of all those Izzo-Brown has produced during the years, perhaps shown best by the performance in gutting out that victory over Virginia on Saturday.
“I was worried about this game. You know, there’s always a hangover game. You come in and beat top-notch Duke and then you have to turn around and match that type of performance. Coaches are always a little bit worried,” Brown said.
As it was, she had reason to worry.
“We started a little bit slow but then found a way to win,” she said.
It was the way they always seem to find to win the tough games, by grinding it out, especially in the second half after that slow start.
“I thought we just kept working and working and working through it,” Izzo-Brown said. “It wasn’t a perfect game. I spoke to the team a little bit about how great teams find a way to win. I don’t think it was our prettiest performance, but I felt in the last 15 minutes we kept driving and pressing and finding a way to put the ball in the back of the net. I was pleased with the no quit mentality, especially against an incredible Virginia team.”
Certainly, she has gotten the message of what she is looking for in players across to Sibley, who scored the game-winner.
“Hard work pays off,” she said following the contest. “I wouldn’t say they caught us off guard, but they did catch us off guard a little bit. We went in at halftime and coach sat us down and said ‘We’re better than this. We have to choose the right passes, simple passes. Once we got the feel of it, we dominated them in the second half.”
They may have dominated but there weren’t many scoring chances until Lauren Segalla, a redshirt junior from Connecticut, found a way to get her fellow junior, Sibley, the ball in position to make a play.
In an instant, there was a goal and all the hard work was rewarded.
“Lauren kind of put the crossover and Sibley just buried it one time. It was a perfectly placed upper 90 type of finish,” Izzo-Brown said. “I’m so happy for her and this team that they could grind it out and find a win.”
But now they have to do it again for on Saturday they make a return trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia again in the regular season finale.
“There were some moments when Virginia was moving the ball way too well with us,” Izzo-Brown said. “You can’t give a team time and space like Virginia. We have to watch a lot of video and make some adjustments, then make sure the players understand the importance of it.”