West Virginia University is a true endorsement of the phrase “the best offence is a good defence.”
West Virginia, which includes six Canadians on its roster, is currently the highest-ranked Big 12 school in NCAA women’s soccer, and has some of the best defensive numbers in the college game (10 clean sheets in 12 games played, second in the NCAA). The 13th-ranked Mountaineers boast an 11-1-0 record and are undefeated at home.
Two of the most familiar faces on the squad are Canadians: centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan and midfielder Ashley Lawrence. The juniors are coming off impressive showings at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup, where Buchanan collected the tournament’s Young Player Award and Lawrence scored her first goal for the senior team.
Other Canadians at West Virginia include defenders Bianca St. Georges and Easther Mayi Kith, forward Amandine Pierre-Louis and midfielder Carla Portillo.
Coach Nikki Izzo-Brown has been at the helm of the Mountaineers’ program for two decades and has had a great influence on the Canadians currently under her charge. All of them are seeing regular time on the pitch and are making key contributions to the team’s success.
Sportsnet recently had the opportunity chat one-on-one with Izzo-Brown to discuss what the contingent of Canadian players bring to her team.
What has Kadeisha Buchanan done on your back line to make the Mountaineers so defensively sound this season?
Her leadership and her tactical understanding of the organization of that back line, I couldn't ask someone to do more than what Keisha is doing. Her understanding and ability to keep us organized, keep us tight, deny good scoring opportunities has just been tremendous thus far.
Both she and Ashley Lawrence have been with you for three years now. What kind of growth have you seen in them since their freshman years?
Both of them have embraced getting better every day. They’re so open to every aspect of getting better. With being a student athlete, inside the classroom to being on the playing field and just technically getting better with whatever skill set we put in front of them. So, if it's the non-dominant foot or finishing an opportunity, both of them just embrace the opportunity to be the best they can be.
You mention their studies and that looks to be a big part of their success, too. Some may not realize, but these girls have to do a lot of balancing in terms of scheduling to devote time on the field and in the classroom.
Absolutely. I think both of them are very special young women. In regards to last semester, they took it off academically to prepare for the World Cup. Then this January, next semester, they’re taking off to prepare for the Olympics. People don't understand what that means. It means that when they’re here, they’re taking a heavy load and have a lot more responsibilities than just a normal student.
What was your reaction when Ashley scored in Montreal versus the Netherlands at the World Cup and then when Kadeisha claimed the Young Player Award?
I was fortunate enough to be in the stands when Ashley scored that goal. For me, to be honest with you, I got really emotional because I know how much Ashley has given to get in that moment and sacrificed and worked hard for that moment. For me, it was just celebrating Ashley and understanding how much she put into getting that moment. I was so proud of her, but also so, so excited.
For Keisha, when she called me, I was just so happy for her because for her, again, same kind of story. Everything that has gone into that award and all of her hard work and sacrifice. To see her walk on that stage and receive that award was just tremendous because I believe she had an incredible, incredible World Cup. It was so deserving.
Have you noticed any changes in their play since they took part in the tournament?
Anytime you're in that environment, with that senior leadership and being around players like Karina LeBlanc, who has been part of the Canada program for so long and is such a tremendous leader, it's hard not to grow as a leader. As someone that can be a huge role model and constant communicator on the field, for me, the first thing that both of them developed was the leadership and maturity being around such great women.
Then, I would have to say for both of them, their speed of play and technical ability is definitely something I saw improve and it would be hard not to in that environment. I think technically and from a mental component, both of them have grown.
How are the other Canadians on your roster doing?
I think to bring in players with that kind of experience, especially the national team experience—that all have—they've definitely impacted the game at the college level with their experiences and their strengths. I think each one of them brings something different to the table because they play in different positions.
It's hard to lump them together since I think they’re very individual, but I also think that just from a national perspective that playing at Canada's highest level has definitely improved the team's ability to have success.
Do you see any particular standout characteristics from players who come from the Canadian national program?
I think Canada's national team program has done a great job with building structure and opportunity technically and tactically to impact at another level, speed of play, tactical understanding. I definitely see that group has been in an environment of high level where those players can definitely bring it to West Virginia and still compete at the highest level.
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