MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The second season begins for the West Virginia University women’s soccer team this weekend. The 15th-rated Mountaineers take on Villanova in a Big East tournament quarterfinal game at Villanova Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 30.
The winner will advance to the Big East tournament semifinals to be played at Marquette’s Valley Fields, on Friday, Nov. 4, at 5 pm CT.
West Virginia has enjoyed considerable success in Big East tournament play advancing to the finals twice, but the Mountaineers have had a difficult time with the Wildcats, losing twice to Villanova last year and getting knocked out of the Big East tournament on a penalty-kick shootout in 2003. West Virginia is just 3-4-4 in 11 meetings against the Wildcats.
WVU senior Marisa Kanela says Villanova’s defensive styles makes them a difficult team to play against.
“They pack it in,” she said. “We’re going to have to attack from the wings.”
Kanela is the best offensive player on a West Virginia team that has struggled to score goals against a very difficult schedule this season. During one stretch of games from Aug. 28 to Sept. 23, the Mountaineers managed just four goals while producing a 2-3-3 record.
According to Kanela, it was at that point in the season that West Virginia coach Nikki Izzo-Brown decided to change her attack in order to get more scoring production.
“She had to tweak things and she moved a lot of people around to get more scoring,” Kanela said. “We were playing a lot of our matches in the middle of the field.”
The senior believes the team is also maturing at the right time. West Virginia is fielding an extremely young lineup with four freshmen among its 11 starters.
“They’ve played a lot of soccer but college soccer is a lot different,” Kanela said of the team’s highly touted group of freshmen. “I think they’re starting to play well with the older players.”
Kanela illustrates her point: “Amanda Cicchini is great from the 18s but is a little hesitant attacking the goal, so I’ve gone to the goal a little more this year because I know she’s going to be back behind me,” Kanela said.
The Mountaineers (10-4-3) were able to get three goals in a shutout win over St. John’s and have outscored their opponents 17-4 down the stretch to win seven of their last eight regular season matches, including a 2-0 triumph over then-No. 6-rated Marquette.
Kanela, who leads the team with six goals and seven assists for a team-high 19 points, believes West Virginia’s tough early-season schedule playing Virginia, Tennessee and Portland outside of the conference has prepared it for post-season play.
“We’ve played a really tough schedule and we’ve been in every match this year,” said the Wantagh, N.Y., resident. “We held Portland scoreless until the 72nd minute and they’re probably going to be in the Final Four this year.”
Kanela says Villanova has a pair of “really fast” forwards and an outstanding goalkeeper Jillian Loyden. She is giving up an average of 0.40 goals per game to rank third in the Big East behind WVU’s Lana Bannerman and South Florida’s Tiffany Hansen.
The Wildcats (9-3-4) are one spot behind West Virginia in the Mid-Atlantic Regional rankings at No. 4 and are probably headed back to the NCAA tournament, where it reached the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Kanela knows this Sunday is going to be a battle of contrasting styles.
“It will be a battle of wills,” she said. “But they’ve won a Big East championship with this style and went to the Sweet 16 so it works.”
West Virginia, on the other hand, is looking to return to the Big East finals for the first time since losing at Connecticut 1-0 in 2002. The Mountaineers have been to the NCAA tournament in each of the last five seasons.
West Virginia has been ranked every week by either the NSCAA or Soccer America. The Mountaineers have been nationally ranked 39 of the last 41 weeks.