Canadian Senior Bry McCarthy Will Hope To Lead WVU To Big XII Glory in 2012
General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes | AWK Awards Shortlist | AWK Preseason All-America Team | Missing U20 World Cup Players
ACC – Clemson | Miami (FL) | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Louisville | Marquette | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Ohio State | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Boston University | Central Michigan | Dayton | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UC Irvine | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Georgia | Kentucky | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | Santa Clara | St. Mary’s (CA)
Traditional slow starters in recent years, West Virginia have almost always found their best form as the leaves begin to turn and the stakes grow higher. The Mountaineers were true to form in 2011, beginning the year 2-3-0 before going on their traditional tear down the stretch. You’d forgive WVU for some of their early stumbles though, with two of those three losses coming against Virginia and Penn State. What mattered in the end though was the team’s league form, a 10-1-0 season good enough for a share of the Big East title in their final year in the conference before moving to the Big XII.
By this point, nobody should be surprised at WVU’s striking success under head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who has overseen twelve straight winning seasons with the Mountaineers and has never endured a losing season with West Virginia in her sixteen years with the program. Izzo-Brown’s coaching record stands at a whopping one hundred thirty-seven games over .500, and there’s no doubting her place among the coaching greats in any sport at the school. Within five seasons in Morgantown, Izzo-Brown had the Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament, although it took a few appearances and a couple of humbling losses to minnows for WVU to truly find its footing on the biggest stage in college soccer.
West Virginia would pick up their first win in the NCAA Tournament in 2002, coincidentally the same season they picked up their first piece of silverware, a divisional title in the Big East, the first of five the school would win. A Sweet Sixteen appearance would follow in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until the second half of the first decade of the new millennium that Izzo-Brown’s side would really start to hit its stride. The first of three straight divisional titles in the Big East would arrive in 2006, no doubt helped by being moved out of Notre Dame’s division by the latest shuffle in team alignment. 2006 would end in disappointment though as the Mountaineers would see their season end at the first hurdle in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
With plenty of motivation heading into 2007, WVU quite simply enjoyed their best season ever, taking home a league divisional title/conference tournament title double and then advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history, falling to eventual national champions USC in the quarterfinals. Since then, it’s been a battle against rising expectations for Izzo-Brown’s team. The Mountaineers’ win total decreased from eighteen in 2007 to fourteen a year later and to ten in 2009. That latter season also saw WVU finally cede their divisional crown to Marquette, while progress in the NCAA Tournament has also been hard with the Mountaineers having not escaped the first weekend in two seasons going into the 2010 campaign.
An indifferent start to 2010 put West Virginia in a hole early, but a win against Virginia began a turnaround that saw the club win fourteen straight matches, including three to win the Big East Tournament, and two in the NCAA Tournament before the club was felled by Boston College in the Sweet Sixteen in decisive fashion, with the 4-0 loss the club’s worst in over a decade.
Heading into 2011, the entire West Virginia athletic program was in a semi-state of limbo as the university attempted to extricate itself from the Big East and finalize a move to the Big XII without being tagged with the same waiting period as Syracuse and Pittsburgh. That being said, WVU most certainly wanted to leave the league on a winning note if it was indeed to be their last season in the Big East.
The beginning of the season was a bit of a roller coaster though, and the club’s 5-0 loss at Penn state was certainly not something to be looked upon fondly. By the time WVU had made it to Big East play, they had nursed their record back above .500 but had nary a quality win to show for their efforts. They wouldn’t have to wait long for such a win in league play though, as the Mountaineers beat Marquette, 3-1, in their second league match of the season.
It was part of a five match winning streak in the league to open up the Big East campaign, and WVU were looking good for the title when they were shocked by Villanova just a few days after having beaten Georgetown in Washington D.C. The 4-1 pounding put on the Mountaineers by a mediocre Villanova team was a stunning result and one that put WVU’s title hopes in doubt somewhat. But the schedule eased up considerably from that point, and Izzo-Brown’s side rolled to five straight wins in the team’s final five games to lift a share of the league title with Marquette.
There were no doubts as to who the best club in the league was after the conference tournament, as West Virginia stormed to a double, crushing Seton Hall in the first round, 5-0, before dismantling Georgetown for the second time in 2011 with a 5-1 pasting. A red hot Louisville side would present more of a challenge in the final, but in the end, they were still swept aside by a 2-0 margin.
The in form Mountaineers looked like a sneaky dark horse pick to advance to the College Cup with a little luck, which made the NCAA Tournament all that much more shocking for Izzo-Brown’s side. Against a talented but inconsistent Virginia Tech side, WVU were bullied for the better part of ninety minutes in a rough and tumble affair that saw the Mountaineers playing from behind for much of the match after conceding in the seventeenth minute. WVU supporters were left waiting for a goal that would never come though, as the home side was only able to put three shots on frame the entire match, paying a steep price for a blunt edge in front of goal.
Given the nature of WVU’s excellent season up to that point, it was a devastating defeat, likely one of the club’s most disappointing postseason losses in a long while. Such defeats sometimes change the course of a club in a very bad way. But you get the sense that Izzo-Brown’s far too good of a coach to let that happen, and if anything, the premature NCAA Tournament exit will only galvanize these Mountaineers going forward. They’ll need to bounce back quickly, as the Big XII beckons and presents a whole new set of challenges to be conquered.
Not that West Virginia doesn’t enter the Big XII with a good many tools to go a long way in their new league debut in 2012. Canadian left-back Bry McCarthy was one of the Big East’s top defenders and should be one of the Big XII’s top full-backs in her senior season as well. In addition to being a strong defender, McCarthy’s also a vital member of the offense, having led the team with nine assists last season.
That offense has to compensate for he loss of leading scorer Blake Miller but does return the prodigious talents of junior Frances Silva and sophomore Kate Schwindel, the 2011 Big East Rookie of the Year. The duo combined for fourteen goals and eleven assists and will need to be on top of their game if the Mountaineers are to contend for honors. The biggest challenge facing Izzo-Brown and co. this season might be retooling a defense that loses a trio of starters from last year’s unit that gave up just nine goals in eleven league games.
Though the club can still call upon starting keeper Sara Keane, who impressed last season, that back four will have to be whipped in shape in a hurry with the likes of Stanford, Penn State, Miami (FL), and La Salle on the non-conference docket. At the height of their powers though, this WVU should have more than enough to give most of their league rivals a torrid time.
Keane’s ascendence came at a great and necessary time for the Mountaineers, who had to replace the excellent Kerri Butler in goal after the 2010 season. Keane had been a big time prospect coming into Morgantown but had very little luck with injuries early on, redshirting in both 2009 and 2010 for the club. She’d show why she was so highly regarded last season though, making her long awaited debut and shining brightly, keeping nine clean sheets as a rookie and earning All-Big East Second Team and All-Tournament Team honors as a rookie. The sky is seemingly the limit for the New Jersey native, and she should be one of the Big XII’s best keepers as a sophomore this season.
The backup role is likely to be in flux ahead of the new season though after the transfer of last year’s understudy, Kristene Mumby, to Maryland. The returning option is Katie Osterman, a highly touted freshman coming into the new season who unsurprisingly redshirted after Keane’s emergence last year. In all likelihood though, the club’s backup this season is likely to be senior transfer Caitlin Hulyo. Hulyo had been a three year starter at Colorado College, putting in some impressive displays before missing all of last year through injury. A stable, veteran pair of hands, Hulyo should offer a reliable alternative should Keane be injured or out of sorts. With a rising star in Keane and a strong backup in Hulyo, this looks like one of the nation’s best goalkeeping situations.
As stated above, WVU’s defense has some serious retooling to do to replicate last year’s performance after being hit with some severe losses. The biggest loss arguably is Drea Barklage, who wasn’t the biggest center-back at 5’3″, but packed a whole lot of bite in her game. Beginning her career as an excellent defender at Saint Louis, Barklage transferred to West Virginia before the 2010 season and quickly turned into a key component of the WVU defense, even netting five goals as a junior. The tough tackling Barklage would only net twice last season but was still a very effective leader for the backline and will be missed by the Mountaineers.
Also gone for the club is big defender Erica Henderson, who turned into a steady member of the club’s backline, starting full-time from the middle of her redshirt freshman season on. A big target who could also play up front, Henderson scored six goals as a freshman before turning into a defensive mainstay, including starting every game in her final two seasons with the club before being drafted by the WNY Flash in the WPS Draft after the 2011 season.
The last of last year’s starters to depart is Meghan Lewis, who started all but one game as a senior. Lewis came to the club as a midfielder but was then converted to defense before the 2009 season and stuck ever since. 2010 was a brilliant season for Lewis, as she won the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Offensive Player award after scoring the game winner against South Florida in the tournament final. She’d net three times last year as well, and is yet another experienced hand that must be replaced.
The glue hoping to hold this group together this year is returning senior left-back Bry McCarthy. A full Canadian international, McCarthy had been one of the Big East’s best defenders for the better part of three seasons. A deadly threat going up the line to support the attack, McCarthy has seen her assists total swell markedly over the past three years, with the Canadian finishing with nine to lead the team last year. That total included assists in three straight Big East Tournament games for WVU last year. McCarthy’s more than competent defending also, having won the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Defensive Player award following last year’s triumph.
The big question for WVU this season is who joins her on that backline for the 2012 campaign. Senior Mallory Smith looks like a certain bet for one of the vacated spots this season. After a few seasons as a reserve defender, Smith stepped into a defensive midfield role last season and started eighteen matches. With the club so desperate for size and experience at the back though, it seems like a pretty good bet that Smith will end up at one of the center-back spots this year for the Mountaineers.
It might be rookies as far as the eye can see for the other slots though. Former U15 international Carly Black is a strong defender who was a Region I ODP team mainstay before coming on strong down the stretch for the powerhouse PDA team in 2012 ECNL competition. Quick and tenacious defender Halie Conroy also joins up from the Real Colorado club, where she’s also had success in ECNL competition in recent seasons. McCarthy should be one of the nation’s top full-backs again this season, but the upheaval around her could create some serious teething issues at times this year for WVU.
West Virginia looks to be in much better shape in the midfield, where they essentially return last year’s starting unit intact, though Smith must be replaced if she moves into defense. The only expected loss looks like graduated senior Morgan Betscher, who departs after spending most of her career as a reserve. She had logged two goals and four assists as a rookie but failed to make a bigger impact offensively in subsequent years, though she did net the winner against Syracuse last year.
The leading returnee for the club in the middle of the park is attacking midfielder Bri Rodriguez, hoping to reel in more silverware for the club in her senior season. A prep phenom and U17 international coming into West Virginia, Rodriguez looked like becoming a superstar going into 2011 after a brilliant sophomore season that saw her named All-Region First Team after seven goals and seven assists. Her junior year would be a bit of a letdown though, with Rodriguez being shut out of the end of season awards, though she did score winners over Rutgers and Seton Hall and finished with three goals and five assists overall. Rodriguez tore an ACL against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament though, putting a damp end on her junior year. While, early indications are that she’ll be back in time for the new season, one wonders if she’ll be up to speed early on for WVU.
Classmate Caroline Szwed is also likely to see extensive action in midfield this season after being a rock in the starting lineup for the past three seasons. A U20 international with Canada, Szwed has been a workhorse for WVU in her tenure with the club, often going the distance or close to it for the Mountaineers. She made a big offensive splash in 2009 with six assists, and while she hasn’t matched that pace since, she’s still good for the odd goal and assist here or there and should be one of the club’s most consistent operators this year.
Finding a starter to replace Smith, who looks likely to move into defense, could be key. Senior Nicole DeLaurentis is capable either in attack or in midfield but has little starting experience and hasn’t logged more than a half hour of action in games in recent seasons. Sophomore Jess Crowder could be a prime contender for major minutes this year after mainly playing as a key midfield reserve after coming in as a highly touted rookie last season.
As is the case with the defense, it might be up to some newcomers to fortify the ranks. Technically, junior Kara Blosser isn’t a total newcomer, having been with the team last year, but a long, convoluted journey after a transfer from NC State forced her to redshirt last season. She proved to be a mercurial yet inconsistent talent with the Wolfpack, scoring nine goals as a rookie in 2009 but seeing results tail off considerably as a sophomore before the exit from Raleigh. With a year to acclimate to her new surroundings, she should be settled, but it remains to be seen how long it’ll take to knock off the rust accumulated.
A gritty rookie with size and vision, Leah Emaus has been a Region I ODP mainstay for nearly half a decade and should be right in the mix for major minutes. As could Amanda Hill, a Pennsylvania native with technical proficiency in the midfield and every chance at making an impact early on for WVU. Much depends on Rodriguez’s health and form, but if both are up to snuff, this unit looks very solid with her and Szwed returning. Filling the gap if Smith moves to defense could be a challenge, but Izzo-Brown has plenty of talented options to choose from.
Despite returning the talented Schwindel and Silva, this group has a bit of work to do to replace some major losses in depth. The big loss of course is that of last year’s leading scorer, Blake Miller. With the exception of a down season as a sophomore, Miller was frighteningly efficient in front of goal, with ten goals in her other three seasons. She was also a fine contributor to her teammates, with sixteen combined assists the past two seasons. Last year’s haul included five game winning goals, while Miller proved to be a postseason ace as a senior, scoring in every round of the Big East Tournament for WVU.
Depth takes some serious hits as well going into the new year. Californian Emily Dillon seemed to be coming into her own as a sophomore last season, netting five goals, mostly as a reserve, though she also started four games. She surprisingly left the team after the 2011 season though, robbing the club of a proven option off the bench. Also departing are graduated senior Chelsey Corroto, who played just about everywhere as a Mountaineer and knocked in a couple of goals last season, and Katie Lenz, who racked up four assists last year but transferred to Tennessee after the season.
The team’s offensive centerpiece going into the new season could be Schwindel, who showed signs of becoming a star last season in a season that saw her win Big East Rookie of the Year plaudits. Schwindel wasn’t necessarily in form at the beginning of the season, going scoreless in her first eight games, but once the light clicked on, it stayed on. She scored all six of her goals and netted all but one of her assists in the league, raising hopes significantly going into the new year, especially after a call-up to U20 camp in the offseason.
Silva, a junior, is the other half of West Virginia’s potentially deadly duo up front. She quickly won a starting place as a rookie in 2010 and delivered a promising return of four goals and three assists for WVU. Silva was another slow starter last year, scoring just once before non-conference play started, but then knocking in seven goals with four assists against league foes. As long as Schwindel and Silva don’t take too long to heat up this year, they could be one of the league’s premier scoring duos.
Returning depth is problematic to the point of being almost non-existent. Besides this year’s true freshmen, the club might also be looking towards redshirt freshman Annalika Steyn to make an impact. Highly regarded herself coming into Morgantown last year, Steyn would miss all of last season through injury. A return to health might be just the ticket for a WVU side desperately needing an influx of depth after the departures. While there’s big-time talent at the top, this unit looks to have some not so minor depth issues, meaning the Mountaineers could struggle if their big two are out of form or injured at any time this year.
New league or no, don’t expect West Virginia to stop their winning ways anytime soon. Izzo-Brown has also been one of many to tap into a rich pipeline of Canadian talent, as can be evidenced by the success of McCarthy and Szwed and will be bringing in even more Canadian starlets next season. Though names like McCarthy, Rodriguez, and Schwindel aren’t likely to register much for the casual college soccer observer, they form the core of a strong squad that’s always much more than the sum of its parts.
While the club looks a little thin on depth all the way around in the field, they also have the looks of a very strong first unit. The midfield with Rodriguez and Szwed looks potent, while the Schwindel/Silva duo could be electric up front with another season to build an understanding. Defensively, McCarthy’s close to a sure thing, but the pieces around her may take a little time to fit properly, which might be a worry considering some of the attacks the club will be facing early on, though having Keane in goal helps. Traditional slow starters (partly down to some murderous non-conference scheduling), West Virginia almost always heats up considerably as the weather cools, which should give their new league rivals some pause.
If they can stay healthy and get some contributions from the youngsters, this WVU side has every chance of walking away with trophies at the first time of asking in the Big XII. Anything more than a few wins in the NCAA Tournament might have to wait another year though, as the depth just doesn’t seem to be there to challenge for a deeper run in November.