Looking back, Nikki Izzo-Brown says that she may have made it hard on her young team by scheduling top opponents. They made it through with a winning record, though, and she says there are a lot of pros that came from it.
“It was definitely an incredibly challenging non-conference schedule,” Izzo-Brown said. “Looking back, though, our hope…was that it’s prepared us for Friday night, and that was the goal. Unfortunately we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we definitely learned a lot about ourselves and that was the main goal.”
The tough scheduling is all part of the plan for Izzo-Brown. When a team plays tough opponents early on, it can serve as a measuring stick before league play.
“I think a non-conference schedule like the one we just played — you can’t hide, so it’s definitely going to expose areas that you need to be better at and also areas that we’re good at,” she said. “That’s always the goal, and I’ve been consistent with that throughout my career and I’d probably have some more wins if I didn’t have that philosophy, but I hope this year it really pays off.”
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, this year’s difficult slate came during a “rebuilding year” for a youthful roster. Along with the loss of senior forward Lauren Segalla to injury, Izzo-Brown had a lot of question marks in her squad, especially in the attack.
She needed to find some players like sophomore Alina Stahl to fill Segalla’s shoes, and so far they’ve stepped up.
“You look at Alina Stahl…on Sunday [against Bowling Green], scoring those two goals right off the bat was huge momentum,” Izzo-Brown said. “Coming in and being able to do that as a sophomore was everything we’ve asked her to do, you know, ‘do your job,’ and she was able to do that, so I was really proud of her.”
The Mountaineers have momentum on their side after finishing the first part of their season with a pair of home wins leading into their Big 12 home opener against Iowa State. After taking some tough losses to top opponents, those victories were key in building morale.
“For us to just get a little more confidence in the attack and to get some wins is definitely something we’re always shooting for,” Izzo-Brown said. “But more importantly, the shutouts — and that was something that the last two games, we were able to get the shutouts, and that’s just as important as the goals.”
Now that’s all behind them, and Izzo-Brown’s squad is moving on to the Big 12 Conference. It all starts against Iowa State, who currently sit at a 3-6 record heading into their league slate.
“They’re obviously a BCS school with incredible play, they’re organized, they’re lethal in the attack and they can catch you off balance a little bit,” Izzo-Brown said. “We just have to be ready for a team that’s hunting wins for conference play.”
The action starts at 7 p.m. for the Mountaineers, as they will host the Cyclones at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.