from WVU Athletic Department report
As West Virginia University women’s soccer team enters its second week of preseason training at Dreamswork Field, head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown is looking to reload for another deep run into November rather than rebuild, even with a relatively young squad.
Izzo-Brown is entering her 24th season at the helm of the women’s soccer program seeking a second-consecutive Big 12 Championship title and its 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Izzo-Brown now owns an impressive 353-116-53 overall head coaching record after collecting career victory No. 350 in 2018.
Once again, you’ll find a pair of WPIAL products on the WVU roster. This year that includes Mackenzie Aunkst (redshirt freshman, Penn-Trafford / Beadling SC) and Alina Stahl (sophomore, Baldwin / Beadling SC).
Aunkst took a redshirt last season, and Stahl returns after appearing in 15 matches and logging 378 minutes of action before suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury. Prior to getting hurt, Stahl finished her freshman year with two goals and two assists. She was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Week in early October.
Twelve players, including 11 freshmen, join your squad in 2019. How do you incorporate the new Mountaineers?
“Every year is a new season, but that’s especially true in 2019. We lost nine seniors from the 2018 squad, so I fully expect this to be a transition season for our program. I really believe in this freshman class. Each of them committed to this program because she wants to win championships. They want to help us continue in our quest to hoist three trophies each year. I know these young, talented players are going to come in and do everything they can to keep the tradition of success at our high standard.”
Though three-fifths of your back line graduated in 2018, All-American goalkeeper Rylee Foster returns for her senior campaign. How much will you rely on her experience this season to be your team’s quarterback?
“As a freshman, Rylee was an immediate starter for us, and she has gained so much experience over the last three years, both here in Morgantown and playing for Canada internationally. She will be vital to our success this season. She knows what our standard is, and she has to be ready to be our anchor and maintain our high standards. Conversely, she will have to be the voice of reason, as our younger players haven’t experienced collegiate soccer yet.
Of your returning players, who are you hoping to see emerge as a leader this year?
“Senior forward Jade Gentile and junior forward Lauren Segalla return with a lot of playing experience, and I believe they’ll step up as leaders this season. Junior midfielder Stefany Ferrer-vanGinkel should also be a good leader for us, especially when you consider what she brought to the playing field last season in terms of her goals and assists.”
“Beyond those three, you have (sophomores) Jordan Brewster and Addison Clark who came in last season and contributed in different ways.
You’ve had a lot of success with transfers in recent seasons, and this year, senior midfielder Jessica Lisi joins your team after three years at Memphis. Do you expect her to have an immediate impact?
“Definitely. We got to see Jess play a lot throughout the spring; she’s a versatile and experienced player. She won championships at Memphis, and she’s experienced the NCAA Tournament. She has vital experience collegiately plus an international resume. We’re hopeful for her this season.”
As you enter the season, your 2019 slate ranks as one of the toughest nationally. You never shy away from a difficult schedule – how do you view this year’s list of opponents?
“It’s going to be a really big challenge. There’s no hiding this year. We know the opponents we will face will challenge us in every way – mentally, physically, technically and tactically. We’re doing everything we can at this point to make sure we understand those challenges and to prepare ourselves.
You reclaimed the Big 12 Soccer Championship in 2018. Each season, you continue to marvel at the improvement of your league opponents and how tough this conference is – what challenges are you expecting from them this year?
“When you look at the RPI of the Big 12 in 2018, we were the best in the country. That speaks so much to what this conference is doing nationally. We know every team is getting better, and we know how impactful each of these teams can be. We understand how difficult the Big 12 portion of our schedule will be, as we play in one of the best leagues in the country.”
You enter the 2019 season 10 wins short of program win No. 350. How do you use such a big milestone to motivate this team?
“I think every team likes to hit milestones. I think this team would love to grab that milestone and maintain success. I do think if they hit their goal of winning a championship, they can claim this milestone. I think they’ll cherish that opportunity and push toward success. I know they want to maintain our standard of excellence.”
At the onset of the season, how do you define success for this 2019 team?
“We will be successful if we get better every day, maintain our focus and keep our team goals in front of us. It’s always hard to measure success with just championships even though that’s what we’re supposed to do. If this team becomes the best it can be every day, then we’ll be successful and reach our potential.”