MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – To a certain extent, WVU women’s soccer is running it back in 2023.

Coaches are typically thrilled to welcome back returning players after winning a conference tournament, and WVU women’s soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown is no different.

It starts with Kayza Massey in net, who was recently named to the All-Big 12 team as the lone goalkeeper. Massey started each game in net for the past two years for WVU, and she earned All-Big 12 honors in both 2021 and 2022.

“Her decision-making has matured vastly,” Izzo-Brown said. “I think she really plays inside herself now, understands, you know, make the saves you’re supposed to make, come up with the big one. Game management is something that she’s really embraced.”

Because of players like Massey, Izzo-Brown is excited about her crop of returning players from last year’s Big 12 Tournament champion team.

“I [will] probably have to lean on Mackenzie Aunkst,” she said. “She’s one that’s coming back stronger than she was last year.”

Along with Aunkst, several other veterans received praise from their head coach.

“Maddie Moreau is always ready to rumble, and Julianne Vallerand,” she said. “…Maya McCutcheon is somebody that has also come in very strong.”

With the departures of Gabrielle Robinson and Jordan Brewster – two of the best defenders in the country last year – to professional ball, Izzo-Brown has big shoes to fill at the center back position.

“Annika [Leslie] has gotten some significant minutes there and knows exactly what her skillset has to be to keep that position intact,” Izzo-Brown said. “And then [Aunkst], you might see [her] there a little bit, and obviously with all of her experience, you know they know the position well. So, I feel like we’re in good hands.”

After winning a conference tournament, Izzo-Brown was able to retain more players than in years past because of the free year of eligibility granted to players on the roster during the 2020 covid-altered season.

“All my sixth years, I don’t know if they’ve necessarily surprised me, but I’m happy with where they’re at,” she said.

The season officially opens on Thursday when the Mountaineers travel to Durham, North Carolina, to take on Duke at 7 p.m. WVU is set to open the campaign on the road for the first time since 2020.

WVU then returns to Morgantown to kick off its home slate with a three-game tilt at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. The homestand begins with a matchup against St. Francis (Pa.) on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 1 p.m. The Mountaineers then welcome Penn State to town on Thursday, Aug. 24, at 5 p.m., followed by a contest with Duquesne on Sunday, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m.