WVU Set For Deep NCAA Run After Avoiding Dukes’ Hazard

Written by Ian Thomson

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 4-ranked West Virginia women’s soccer team had gone five years without an NCAA Championship win leading into last week’s first round meeting with Duquesne University at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.

The Mountaineers entered three of the past four tournaments with a top 10 ranking and ambitions for a deep run before being ousted in the early rounds by Virginia Tech (twice), Princeton and Georgetown.

Friday’s 4-0 crushing of the Dukes was not without its potential pitfalls. A transportation mix-up curtailed WVU’s warm-up and blustery conditions threatened to level the playing field against a Duquesne team brimming with confidence after securing its first Atlantic-10 Conference title.

Head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown’s team instead produced a commanding display that leaves the Mountaineers firmly on course for an Elite Eight clash with Big Ten champion Penn State at the end of the month. Northwestern (14-5-2) comes to Morgantown for this Friday’s second round with a potential Sunday contest looming against Minnesota (12-6-3) or Loyola Marymount (14-5-1).

“It’s been a tremendous game for us, even in these conditions to be able to play the way we wanted to play and finish those opportunities,” Izzo-Brown told The Soccer Observer after Friday’s game.

Al Alvine’s Duquesne players have produced some neat play of their own this year. They were outclassed by West Virginia earlier in the season with the Mountaineers winning 5-0 on Aug. 30. A repeat looked likely when sophomore midfielder Carla Portillo blasted WVU into the lead after four dominant minutes.

Carla Portillo was in excellent form as WVU trounced Duquesne in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (Photo: Ian Thomson).
Carla Portillo was in excellent form as WVU trounced Duquesne in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (Photo: Ian Thomson).

West Virginia usually shoots away from the school’s Coliseum building in the first half. Senior captain Amanda Hill bucked normal procedure after winning the coin toss to ensure that the hosts harnessed the strong wind from the start. What followed was an opening period where the Mountaineers outshot the Dukes by 15-0 and led 7-0 in corners. Duquesne’s back line constantly struggled to clear its defensive third and the amount of Dukes passes completed in WVU’s half could have been counted on the toes of a sloth.

Missed chances from Michaela Abam and a couple of untidy goalmouth scrambles kept the score at 1-0 as the last minute of the first half approached. It was imperative for the visitors to hang on. The normally dependable Haley Yow took a heavy touch on the edge of the Dukes’ penalty box that allowed Hannah Abraham to skelp home a left-footed drive despite Vanessa Perdomo’s valiant effort to the claw the ball from her top corner.

“When you talk about emotion and momentum in the game of soccer, that’s what Hannah did for us,” Izzo-Brown told The Soccer Observer. “She definitely led us into halftime with that momentum.

“It was a critical moment.”

Duquesne’s vocal traveling support kept up its defiance with a rousing halftime singsong and the Dukes rallied in the opening minutes of the second half. Linnea Faccenda fired off a couple of harmless shots and substitute Katie O’Connor hustled FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player award winner Kadeisha Buchanan into some rare moments of defending.

Amandine Pierre-Louis closed the door on any comeback hopes with a smart finish to make it 3-0 on 58 minutes after Maggie Bedillion and Abam combined down the left flank.

That cushion allowed Izzo-Brown to make good use of her roster with eight substitutes seeing action. Only four of her starting outfielders played longer than 62 minutes. It is an enviable position to be in when players like Leah Emaus and Kelsie Maloney, staples of the Mountaineers side during their freshman and sophomore seasons, are coming off the bench in their senior year.

Freshman forward Nia Gordon capped another impressive WVU performance with arguably the goal of the night, a 25-yarder thumped high beyond Perdomo’s reach.

Knockout tournaments always carry the threat of elimination for favored teams if they fail to perform on the night. West Virginia suffered that fate in the Big 12 Championship semifinal when Janine Beckie’s late goal advanced Texas Tech into the final.

“We pride ourselves on never losing two in a row,” senior midfielder Hill told The Soccer Observer. “Getting that bitter taste in our mouths could be a good thing, coming in here and not wanting to feel that again.

“It will help to keep us going in this tournament.”


Starting Lineups:

West Virginia (4-3-3): Hannah Steadman – Maggie Bedillion, Easther Mayi Kith, Kadeisha Buchanan, Bianca St. Georges – Amanda Hill, Carla Portillo, Ashley Lawrence – Kailey Utley, Michaela Abam, Nia Gordon

Duquesne (4-2-3-1): Vanessa Perdomo – Allie Holland, Casey Aunkst, Abby Weber, Emilie Larsen – Danya Fenech, Maddie Layman – Haley Yow, Abby Losco, Caroline Lacy – Linnea Faccenda

Referee: Kevin Cooke

Attendance: 983


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