By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a team is a loss, and so it is with West Virginia’s women’s soccer team.
The Mountaineers closed out the weekend by losing to Texas Tech in Lubbock, a loss that one might consider difficult to take since it was their first ever in Big 12 play, coming in the final game of their second regular season, but considering that they had just clinched the regular season championship two days earlier with a double-overtime, 2-1, victory over Oklahoma it was looked at as little more than a “hiccup” in their drive toward bigger things.
For this senior class and coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, who is wrapping up her 18th season as the only women’s soccer coach WVU has ever had, it marked four straight championship years — two Big 12 regular season titles, one Big East regular season and one Big East Tournament championship.
Not bad, especially at a school coming off a pair of disappointing football seasons and a dismal basketball season with another year looming without any high preseason hopes.
Asked if there was one factor that tied the four championships together, Brown thought for a moment, then answered:
“I think mentality — the opportunity to have a winning mentality. What does that mean? It means pillars. I think these seniors have worked hard for it. They have focused on their development and they know that we have to keep reaching and repeating. It’s character.”
And, of course, it is character that the coach has helped bring out, watching players such as forward Frances Silva and goalkeeper Sara Keane grow from innocent freshmen into Big 12 executioners on the soccer field.
“My job is about player development and winning,” she said. “For me to see they have maximized their potential is what makes my job special. For me to know when we have our banquet and to feel I have accomplished my goal, there is nothing more satisfying for me. I think each one of them has developed in a way I can be pretty proud of.”
All of that being said, there remains a task at hand and, despite the success the program that currently is ranked No. 15 in the nation has seen, that is to complete the job that has only just started.
Winning the Big 12 Tournament, which beings in a week, is next and then the NCAAs lie ahead.
The loss to No. 12 Texas Tech in the regular-season finale is motivation, as is the fact that last year’s team went into the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 1 seed, only to be upset by TCU in the first round.
The players want more.
“(Losing to Texas Tech) definitely was not the way we wanted it to end, but we were able to go ahead and get the Big 12 championship,” Silva, the team leader, said. “Now we have to refocus and get ready for the Big 12 championship.”
That loss, however, can be a helpful tool in getting ready.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call in some ways. We have to figure some things out,” Silva said. “We’ve been playing good enough to win, but not up to our potential. Now, maybe we kind of pick it up again and make sure we’re on point for the Big 12 Tournament.”
“I think it’s important to put ourselves in different situations,” Keane added. “We don’t ever want to lose, but it’s good to be down. It’s something we might have to face in the Big 12 Tournament or the NCAAs.”
“It’s always a reminder that you have to be sharp, you have to be focused. And it’s always good to be shaken up before it really counts when you are one-and-done in postseason play. It was important for us to recognize some areas where we need to improve as we go forward,” Izzo-Brown said of the defeat.
Added to the hurt from last year’s first-round tournament defeat and the Mountaineers will not be lacking in motivation.
“It’s fuel for my fire. It’s just they will be hearing about that until the cows come home. Losses are your best opportunity to teach,” Izzo-Brown said.
“Coming in as the No. 1 seed last year and losing in the first round is definitely motivation,” Keane added. “We have a lot to prove, especially being back-to-back regular season champs, we want to show them we can win the tournament, too.”
“There’s a lot that has eluded this team,” Silva said. “We’re young, so the bulk of this team hasn’t won a postseason championship. I think I was the only one who played in the Sweet 16 game my freshman year, so that’s something no one else has experienced. It’s something everyone is hungry for.
“Then there was the loss to Texas Tech that kind of makes the team hungry going into the Big 12 Tournament.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.