By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One might expect, in just the second game of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament that the Big 12 champion, a team with a 16-3-3 record including wins in 12 of its last 13 pre-tournament matches, might have earned a second home game before moving into the Sweet 16.
But such is not the case with No. 7 West Virginia, which must travel to Blacksburg, Va., today for a 6 p.m. meeting with No. 4 Virginia Tech, a team with a 17-4-2 record out of the ACC.
It is not exactly as coach Nikki Izzo-Brown would have laid out her tournament run for her team.
“They’re lethal” she said, a rather strong statement that she repeated to make sure no one missed it.
Especially at home, which is why a game between two such strong, skilled teams normally would be saved for at least one game, perhaps two later in a national tournament.
The NCAA turns its early games into more of a regional tournament, game sites based more on convenience and one who would like to host games than on creating an equitable matchup throughout.
Do schools like this?
“It depends what school you are asking.” Izzo-Brown answered. “It’s difficult for us because a lot of schools cannot get here easy so we might miss out (on what could be a home round) depending on how the NCAA views the calculations and all the seedings. But the intent was good, giving a lot of schools an opportunity to host the first round.”
It seems to leave WVU more vulnerable for early elimination than would be if home sites were based simply on seeding or on being assigned to regional sites that put everyone on a neutral field.
“I just don’t know how it will play out for us for second round and Sweet 16, but that’s just selfish behavior. It is what it is, but at the end of the day you have to beat the team out there in front of you.
WVU advanced to the second round by beating Rutgers in a shootout, 3-0, after playing scoreless through regulation and two overtimes.
In Virginia Tech they face a school with whom they have some familiarity, owning a 3-1 all-time record against the Hokies.
“Reviewing some of the notes a lot of the names are familiar, some of them from the recruiting process because a lot of them are from Virginia. We’ve seen them,” Izzo-Brown said.
They also have played against them, but it was a while back and with as young a team as WVU has, most of the roster was not around for that meeting.
“It’s been brought up, for sure,” said WVU goalkeeper Sara Keane. “A lot of the girls don’t know what we’re talking about because so many were not involved when we played them two years ago. It’s more me, Fran (Silva) and Caroline (Szwed) talking about it. But the kids understand how big a game it is regardless of what’s happened in the past, so everyone is focused and excited to play.“
The seniors Silva, Szwed and Keane make up the heart and soul of the Mountaineer team, but Virginia Tech has a star player of its own in Jazmine Reaves, surrounded by a solid cast of players.
“She is a player to keep in mind, especially with her speed and her strength. I think she could give our football team a run for their money with her 40. She’s that quick,” Izzo-Brown said. “But it’s not just one. It’s everywhere, and that’s why they are the No. 1 seed.”
“Obviously, they are a great team,” Keane said. “Not many teams can score that many goals on a team like Virginia. Kudos to them for doing that. It’s going to come down to us being able to stop their speed, and I think we’re capable of doing that as long as we stick to our game plan.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.