West Virginia University women’s soccer team is set to make its first appearance in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship semifinal round, called the College Cup. The No. 1-seeded Mountaineers will face No. 2 seed North Carolina at 5 p.m., at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California, airing on ESPNU.
A win would make the women’s soccer team the first women’s athletic team to compete for a national championship ever.
The Mountaineers (22-1-2) punched their ticket to San Jose, California, by defeating No. 3 seed Duke 1-0 in the Elite Eight round last Saturday in Morgantown. The Tar Heels (17-3-4) knocked off No. 3-ranked South Carolina 1-0.
Also in the Women’s College Cup are No. 2 seeds Georgetown and USC. Those teams play at 8 p.m. on Friday, also airing on ESPNU.
North Carolina is no doubt the premier program in women’s college soccer. The Tar Heels have claimed 21 NCAA titles and, more historically, has produced some of the best women’s soccer players in this country’s history.
Anson Dorrance, head coach of the Tar Heels is quite honestly the godfather of women’s soccer in the United States. On top of his trailblazing at UNC, Dorrance was the first head coach of the U.S. women’s national soccer team. Under his guidance, the USWNT became the dominant team in women’s international soccer, winning the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.
UNC has also produced World Cup- and gold medal-winning players such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lily, Tisha Venturini, April Heinrichs, Cindy Parlow, Heather O’Reilly and, most recently, Crystal Dunn.
This year, the Tar Heels are led by Bridgette Andrezejewski with nine goals. Behind her is Annie Kingman, who has five goals and eight assists.
UNC has used strangling defense this season, allowing only 14 goals and 13 clean sheets. The Tar Heels have not allowed a goal in their last gfive matches and have shut out six of their last seven opponents. UNC lost to Florida State in penalty kicks in the ACC Tournament championship match after a 0-0 draw.
Since then, UNC defeated Liberty 3-0, Kansas 2-0, Clemson 1-0 and South Carolina 1-0.
This is largely due to the outstanding play of goalkeeper Lindsey Harris. She has a .867 save percentage, with is in the top 10 nationally.
The Tar Heels finished the season at No. 6 in the NSCAA Coaches Poll and have beaten five teams that finished in the top 15. WVU has defeated three such teams. There is no doubt the ACC is a better conference than the Big 12 but WVU has beaten teams from the Big 10, Big East and ACC in addition to a perfect season in the Big 12.
Keys to a WVU Win
Throughout her tenure, the hallmark of Nikki Izzo-Brown’s teams has been defense. This year, however, has been especially stunning. The Mountaineers have produced 17 clean sheets, which is more than any season in program history and has the second-best goals-against average in the country, .349.
North Carolina, however, has beaten some of the best defenses in the country, including South Carolina, Notre Dame and Florida State. In five games against those teams, the Tar Heels have scored 4 goals.
Kadeisha Buchanan is undoubtedly the key for WVU. She was named the espnW Player of the Year this week. She also has World Cup and Olympic experience with Canada. Her wisdom and poise will have to counter the history that UNC has on its side.
The backline has benefitted from the play of freshman goalkeeper Rylee Foster. She returned from Canadian national team duty at FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup for the UCLA match. Foster will need another big game in goal to keep UNC’s attack at bay.
If Nikki Izzo-Brown’s team is to advance past the Tar Heels, the Mountaineers will need to find a way to convert their possession into goals.
WVU will need Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year Michaela Abam, who has 11 goals and nine assists on the campaign, to continue her attacking prowess.
Also helping in the attack has been Ashley Lawrence, who leads the team with 10 assists. Lawrence is listed as a midfielder, but coach has employed her speed and agility on the defensive line during this NCAA tournament run.
One of the interesting keys will be how often Lawrence can drive forward, as her speed has penetrated teams all season. However, with a more adept UNC offense, she may need to stay tethered to her centerbacks.
Izzo-Brown has had three other players score five times or more. Sh’Nia Gordon has seven goals, Heather Kaleeiohi has six and Carla Portillo has netted five goals.
Overall, WVU needs to stick with what has been working this season, but maintain focus for all 90 minutes. The Mountaineers are not only a No. 1 seed, they’re the top-ranked team in the country. There’s not need to feel like this is an insurmountable task.
The Mountaineers need to start the game attacking UNC with ferocity. A first-half goal would allow WVU to dictate how UNC needs to play, which would open up more opportunities for WVU to steal a second-half goal.
Confidence and determination can win this game for WVU and put them into a national championship game.