WVU Women’s Soccer 2022 Season Preview The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast

Athletics will officially return to the campus of West Virginia University Thursday night when the Mountaineer women's soccer team takes on Indiana. On this edition of the Gold and Blue Nation Podcast, presented by Pritt & Spano, Nick Farrell and Sam Coniglio set the stage for the 2022 campaign. 

Nikki Izzo-Brown is tasked with a particular challenge for the first time in 21 years: bringing her team back to the NCAA Tournament.

WVU women’s soccer broke its nation-leading streak of NCAA Tournament berths in 2021 after posting arguably its lowest win total since joining the Big 12, with the exception of the shortened 2020-21 season. That prompted an offseason of reflection for the storied Mountaineer head coach.

“None of these women were satisfied,” Izzo-Brown said. “They have a high standard of excellence and know that getting to the NCAA Tournament is absolutely important.”

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For that reason, the Mountaineers are on a “revenge tour” in 2022. How do the Mountaineers get back on the winning track?

“The game’s about inches, and the game’s about doing the little things to make the big things happen,” Izzo-Brown said. “That’s something that at the end of the day we talk about, but also knowing moving forward, mentally, physically, technically, tactically, we have to be sharper. In order to be sharper, you have to go back to failure, and failure is your best motivator and your best teacher.”

That tour kicks off Thursday when they host Indiana at 7 p.m. ET, the first of 18 regular season contests in their campaign.

Here’s a sneak peek at the 2022 WVU women’s soccer squad:

The ones who stayed

At the end of 2021, Izzo-Brown thought she would have to bid farewell to three seniors: center-back Jordan Brewster, right wing Lauren Segalla and goalkeeper Maddy Murphy. Instead, all three came back and are on board for the revenge tour.

Brewster is poised for a massive fifth season in the Old Gold and Blue and has earned a pile of preseason honors at the conference and national level after her second All-American season in 2021. The Ohio native has professional aspirations, and despite a strong senior season, she felt one more year with West Virginia would benefit her.

WVU captain defender Jordan Brewster eyes a pass during the Mountaineers’ season-opening victory over Buffalo at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium on Aug. 19, 2021. (Photo: Sam Coniglio)

“She wants to be a pro, she felt she needed another year to be a pro. It was Jordan’s decision,” Izzo-Brown said. “My job is to get her to be a pro and I thought she was ready last year, but it made most sense for her to come back and put herself in an even better position after talking to her and her mom.”

The stories for both Segalla and Murphy, however, were a little different. Both had hung up their boots and were ready to bid the game adieu, but at some point in the offseason, they each made the decision to come back.

Interestingly enough, Segalla made her decision at the 11th hour.

“That was exciting. I got a phone call in July and it was an early Christmas present that Lauren Segalla wanted to come back,” Izzo-Brown said. “So we’re real pleased about that one.”

That trio forms the backbone of a large group of returners for the Mountaineers this season, giving the squad valuable experience. In fact, as many as nine returning starters will make the XI by Big 12 play kicks off in September, including Segalla, the team’s leading scorer in 2021.

The holes in the squad

The starting squad isn’t without its question marks.

WVU left back Mackenzie Aunkst takes a dribble on the wing against Buffalo on Aug. 19, 2021 at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. (Photo: Sam Coniglio/Gold and Blue Nation)

Two of WVU’s starters departed the program via the transfer portal, including right-back Nicole Payne, one of the team’s most-improved players in 2021. Pair that with left-back Makenzie Aunkst’s preseason recovery from an injury, Izzo-Brown must figure out extra depth on the ends of the back line.

“Nobody is working harder than Kenzie Aunkst right now and it’s just amazing to see how she’s embraced this adversity and hit it head-on,” Izzo-Brown said.

Isabella Sibley’s graduation from WVU leaves a major hole in the midfield, as does Juliana Lynch’s transfer in the offseason. That part of the field is much more shored up than WVU’s fullback positions, however, as two starters will return in Maya McCutcheon and Lilly McCarthy. The attacking midfield position of Sibley, who led WVU with 13 points, will be something to watch when the season kicks off Thursday.

A young talent to watch

WVU’s second-leading point-getter in 2021 was freshman left wing Dilary Heredia-Beltran, logging three goals and three assists for the Mountaineers.

Heredia-Beltran is one of WVU’s top young talents and proved that in her first college season, starting all 20 matches and earning a spot on the Big 12 All-Freshman team. The Wichita, Kansas product showed off a lot of skill in year one, but it was admittedly very raw skill.

“She catches everybody’s eye. She’s my shifty, 1-v-1 dribbler, exciting, razzle-dazzle player, and she can really create chances but unfortunately, she finished like a freshman,” Izzo-Brown said. “So I know that has been something she has worked on this summer.”

Heredia-Beltran, who competed with the United States junior national teams before joining the Mountaineers, worked with “high-level players” in the offseason according to Izzo-Brown, and will look to show off improved goal-scoring prowess in her sophomore campaign.

“She’s a kid that can really step up to the challenge but also play inside herself,” Izzo-Brown said. “It’s going to be an exciting year for Dilary. She learned a lot last year.”