MORGANTOWN — West Virginia women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown was just getting started as a young coach in Morgantown and trying to find a player who could do for her fledgling Mountaineer program what she had done as an All-American player at Rochester.
The first — and, currently, the only — head coach the women’s soccer program has ever had, Izzo-Brown was looking for a special breed of player when she visited a strong prospect out of Long Island, New York.
“This was back when you could make home visits,” Izzo-Brown said on Monday, taking a break from recruiting in California. “She took me up to her room and she had this filing cabinet that she pulled out. You name a college, it was in that filing cabinet.
“One of the things she wanted to do was impact a program, take a program and help make it a winning program. That’s one of the things I cherish. She wanted to impact this young program and that’s exactly what she did.”
Indeed she did — and still does.
That young player Izzo-Brown visited is now one of WVU’s newest Hall of Famer member: Lisa Stoia.
Stoia was part of a distinguished nine-member class inducted on Sunday. Along with Stoia, it included three-time NCAA wrestling champion Greg Brown, NFL star John Thornton, basketball great Darryl Prue, and women’s basketball star Meg Bulger among others.
Despite the power of the other sports, Stoia still stood as tall as all of them.
What was it that drew Izzo-Brown to Stoia?
“There’s players that can change a program. People can look at a Keisha Buchanan and see a player who can change a program,” Izzo-Brown said, referring to her most recent superstar who is making her presence felt now on the international scene. “That’s exactly what Lisa was. She was a kid at that time that could have played in any program, but she came into our program and changed it right away.”
As a player, Stoia brought talent. More than that, however, Izzo-Brown saw much of herself in the younger player.
“Obviously, we have a lot in common,” Izzo said. “She outworks anybody. That’s what I liked about her. She had the blue collar mentality and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. She was very creative but wasn’t afraid to get physical and bring her New York mentality out.
“But as good as she was as a player, she was 20 times that as a person. And that was what we needed because we were going to build a culture at West Virginia. That was what I needed.”
Stoia made her impact as a player and now makes an impact as a coach. Stoia arrived on campus in 2000 and, except for playing three years of professional soccer, hasn’t left Morgantown since.
Izzo-Brown has been at the school for 23 years, growing the program from nothing to a powerhouse that has produced an overall record of 325-107-49 with a 134-42-21 conference mark that includes 10 regular-season titles and six tournament championships.
Izzo-Brown’s program has also produced 21 professional players, 23 All-Americans, 22 Academic All-Americans, 21 conference players of the year, 15 Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy candidates and the 2016 Hermann Trophy award winner, the 2016 espnW National Player of the Year, two Olympic Bronze Medalists, FIFA Women’s World Cup participants and one FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player honorees.
And while Izzo-Brown has no intentions of leaving the job anytime soon, she does see the day she can pass the torch — and the program — to Stoia.
“Absolutely,” Izzo-Brown said. “There’s no question in mind that would be the No. 1 person [athletic director] Shane Lyons should hire.
It is difficult to put into words the way these two women have helped grow the Mountaineers’ program from nothing to reaching the finals of the NCAA Tournament, or describe the sweat and pain that goes into building a program, then keeping it at — or, near — the top.
While the duo, of course, has had differences, they are so much alike and so similar in their approach — first as player and coach, and then as coach and assistant — that their relationship has lasted longer than most relationships of this nature do.
“I think it speaks to who [Stoia] is,” Izzo-Brown said. “She wanted to continued to change this program as a player and as a coach. That speaks to her loyalty because she’s one of the hottest coaches out there in terms of schools wanting her but she continues to show her commitment to making West Virginia one of the best in the country.”
There were, of course, special moments, but none topped the day the program made itself a contender on the collegiate soccer stage: 2002, when West Virginia first beat Notre Dame after having lost eight straight times to the Fighting Irish.
That victory led to the Mountaineers’ first Big East Championship.
“When we finally beat Notre Dame was a special moment. They were coming off national championships and we were consistently being beat up by them,” Izzo-Brown said. “But when we beat them at home, it was a moment that sticks out in my mind that [Stoia] followed up on her commitment to change the program.”
Some day, rest assured, they both will wind up together in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
But first, Izzo-Brown has to retire.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.