2016 was an historic year for West Virginia women’s soccer. Nikki Izzo-Brown’s Mountaineers made an unprecedented undefeated run through the Big 12 before coming home as runners up in the national championship game.
That team was made up of some of the top names in program history, but they also had to rely on a freshman goalkeeper, Rylee Foster, to take them that far.
Foster, now a senior, looks back on that season fondly.
“It was our goal from the beginning, and we kind of didn’t think we were going to be able to do it,” she recalled. “We were the underdogs of the year, and being able to kind of rise in the ranks and all of a sudden be there in the final four game and make it to the national championship, it was just amazing.”
Fast forward to this week, as the Mountaineers are preparing to wrap up their regular season, as Foster will likely take the pitch at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium for the last time.
This season hasn’t gone quite like that of her freshman year. With one game to go, West Virginia holds a 9-6-2 record on the year with a 4-3-1 Big 12 mark and currently sits at no. 5 in the conference standings.
Through the ups and downs, the Cambridge, Ontario native has learned a lot through her time in the Mountain State.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is there’s never a dull moment. I think that whatever you’re presented, you’ve got to take advantage of, and without it, you’re not going to get better,” she said. “So I think just attacking every situation like it’s your last, to play every game like it’s your last game because you never know what’s going to happen.”
As a four-year starter, she has been one of the top keepers in the Big 12, and cemented herself as one of the prolific in program history — but as with any freshman class, she didn’t come in alone.
Forward Jade Gentile made her first appearances for West Virginia coming off the bench in that 2016 season. While she didn’t get quite as much playing time that year, she still looks back fondly, calling that final four trip her favorite memory.
Gentile has also grown quite a bit on and off the field in the time since, especially since she’s dealt with injury.
“[I would tell my freshman self], I guess, that I’m going to improve,” she said. “A lot. As a player and as a person.”
Her coach corroborates this notion.
“Especially for Jade, she’s playing her best soccer right now, and, you know, so I’m just thrilled that she’s so effective both on and off the field, and being so mature,” Izzo-Brown said.
The senior forward is now a day-in, day-out starter for West Virginia as the senior in the field who has played all four of her years at West Virginia, and is one of the top minutes-getters on the team.
Senior Jessica Lisi is also wrapping up her last season in the Old Gold and Blue, but this season also doubles as her first. She comes to Morgantown by way of Memphis, where she played three season and helped the Tigers to a conference title in the American Athletic Conference.
While there are a lot of differences between Memphis and West Virginia, Lisi says she’s had a unique experience with her new program — especially the coaching staff.
“In general, I think that [Izzo-Brown] has a very hard mentality in the sense of she always expects greatness,” she said. “Not to say that at Memphis they didn’t, they did….But she and I kind of connect in a way that she really gets to me, and she’s able to motivate me in ways that I wasn’t at Memphis.”
Like her teammates, Lisi says she’s experienced growth — both on and off the field.
“Even when I hated running or something, it helped me grow in ways that I possibly wouldn’t have reached,” Lisi said.