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NCAA Women’s Tournament preview: WVU women’s soccer back in a familiar spot

Former Penn-Trafford and Beadling SC standout Mackenzie Aunkst (Photo Courtesy WVU Athletics)

West Virginia University women’s soccer team earned an at-large bid in the 2020-21 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship once again.  With the selection, the Mountaineers qualified for their 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament, good for the fifth-longest streak in the nation.

WVU is 23-17-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and earned the No. 5 overall seed in this year’s event.

“We’re obviously very excited to participate in this College Cup,” WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “I’m going to contribute everything to this team because they’ve been so locked in and so focused to our success.”

Izzo-Brown has built a program where reaching the NCAA tournament is the minimum expectation.  The Mountaineers most impressive run came in 2016, when they made it to the National Finals, where they lost to USC.

The Mountaineers grabbed a first-round bye and will now face Rice in the Second Round on Saturday (Noon) kickoff, in Cary, North Carolina.

The Owls (12-2-1) earned an automatic bid after winning the Conference USA championship, then beat Furman, 3-1, in the first round. Saturday marks the first-ever meeting between the Mountaineers and Owls. Rice is set to become WVU’s 116th different opponent, including its second first-time opponent this season. Overall, West Virginia is 2-0 against members of Conference USA. The squad hasn’t played a C-USA opponent since Sept. 5, 2011 (Marshall, W, 3-0).

“It’s finally tournament time, and we have been working extremely hard for this opportunity,” Brown said. “We have a ton of respect for Rice, as they don’t give up a lot of goals and have won 13 games. Our team knows what is at stake tomorrow, and they are excited to play.”

WVU finished the 2020-21 regular season with a 10-2-1 mark, including 7-2 in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers were unbeaten in the spring, finishing 3-0-1 with a pair of top-10 wins. West Virginia has now won at least 10 games in each of the last 21 seasons.

Alina Stahl (photo courtesy WVU Athletics)

Junior forward Alina Stahl — from Baldwin High School and a product of Beadling Soccer Club, is a co-leader for the Mountaineers in goals, with six, (Senior midfielder Stefany Ferrer-vanGinkel is the other) while redshirt junior forward Lauren Segalla‘s five assists are tops on the squad.

WVU has featured eight different goal scorers and 11 players with at least one assist this season.

In goal, sophomore goalkeeper Kayza Massey is 7-1-1 with two shutouts between the posts this season. She has made 16 saves on the year.

Mackenzie Aunkst (photo courtesy WVU Athletics)

There are still additional former WPIAL standouts on the WVU roster, redshirt sophomore Mackenzie Aunkst (Penn-Trafford) who has started on the back line in all 13 of the Mountaineers’ matches during the 2020-21 campaign, and Rhea Kijowski (Waynesburg Central).

Aunkst has been one of the more durable players on the team and reliable defenders since starting starting 16 of 19 matches her freshman year, and playing more than 1,100 minutes this season.

In the latest United Soccer Coaches National Poll, released on April 20, the Mountaineers rank No. 5, marking the squad’s eighth consecutive week inside the top five. West Virginia also ranks No. 4 in this week’s poll. Rice checked in at No. 22 in the latest United Soccer Coaches National Poll.

Rice is led by second-year coach Brian Lee, who earned Conference USA Head Coach of the Year­ honors this season. The Owls enter Saturday’s fixture with a 13-2-1 record on the year. The C-USA champions defeated Furman, 3-1, on April 28, in the NCAA First Round. In all, Rice is making its fifth tournament appearance in program history. The squad’s first-round win was its first NCAA Tournament victory.

The Owls enter Saturday’s match with 37 total goals on the campaign, which ranks No. 12 nationally. Freshman midfielder Mikala Furuto has found the back of the net six times this season to lead the Owls in goals.

Twenty-nine conferences were granted automatic bids for this year’s championship, while the remaining 19 teams were selected at-large. The top-16 teams nationally are seeded. The 48-team tournament will be held entirely in the state of North Carolina. The move is effective for this year’s men’s and women’s soccer championships, which were postponed last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Games in the third round will be played on May 5, while the quarterfinals will take place on May 9.

The NCAA Women’s College Cup will be played May 13-17, at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. The national semifinals will be on May 13, ahead of May 17’s national championship game.

Excerpts also from NCAA, WVU Athletics reports 



John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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