Big 12 play is slated to kick off in Morgantown when No. 13 West Virginia hosts Iowa State at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium on Friday. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
With five regular season championships in nine seasons, it’s safe to say Nikki Izzo-Brown and her WVU women’s soccer team know their way around the Big 12 Conference. If there’s anything the coach has learned in that time, it’s that every game on the schedule is a championship game, as the end of the season could come down to just one game.
That’s happened a couple of times since the Mountaineers joined the league in 2012, most recently in 2017, when the Mountaineers fell one loss short of the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament. It almost happened again in 2020, as they fell four points (a game and a half) below TCU for the title.
For that reason, WVU has its attention set solely on the Cyclones.
“The margin of error going into Friday’s game and beyond because of the parity in the Big 12, we’re walking into some tough play,” Izzo-Brown said. “So we have to make sure when you start stepping up into conference play, we take care of mental errors, we’re take care of things because the league is so good.”
The Mountaineers (6-2-1) open league play against Iowa State (3-5), a squad that has stumbled out of the gate. The Cyclones have scored just seven goals in eight matches thus far, falling dead last in the Big 12 in terms of offense.
Izzo-Brown has emphasized consistency throughout the season, and this week, she is hoping to see more out of her defense. The Mountaineers have four clean sheets in their nine matches this season, but have allowed a goal in their last two games — a matchup with Iowa State could be the opportunity to flush out some of those edges in the defensive third.
“I think in our defensive shape, we have to know at this point, our movements, our responsibilities, our roles,” she said.
WVU has shown improvement in the attacking third as of late, notching nine goals across its last three matches. This is despite a major shakeup in the team’s lineup — while left back Mackenzie Aunkst is sidelined with an injury, Julianne Vallerand filled her spot after starting the season at the striker position.
It’s a fairly natural move for the junior Vallerand, who started her career on the back line in 2019 — but still, she is the team’s leading scorer, with four goals on 28 shots.
WVU will have a challenge against Iowa State, which boasts one of the tougher defenses in the conference. The Cyclones are anchored by junior goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz, who leads the Big 12 with four saves per game.
Kickoff between the 13th-ranked Mountaineers and the Cyclones is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.