Canadians will be front and centre Saturday when top-ranked West Virginia hosts Duke in the quarter-finals of the NCAA women's soccer tournament.
There are seven Canadians on the West Virginia roster including Canadian internationals Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence of Brampton, Ont. And they are making their presence felt with the Mountaineers.
"It's been an incredible relationship and I have the utmost respect for the youth soccer development in Canada," said West Virginia coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. "And that's why my focus has been so high in the Canadian borders."
Buchanan, Lawrence, Carla Portillo of Mississauga, Ont., and Amandine Pierre-Louis of Montreal all scored in last weekend's 4-2 penalty shootout win over UCLA after the game ended in a 1-1 tie. Canadian international Jessie Fleming scored in regulation time and in the shootout in a losing cause for the Bruins.
The Fleming goal was the first allowed by West Virginia since Nov. 6. The Mountaineers have posted a school-record 16 shutouts, second most in the U.S., and have allowed just nine goals.
Rylee Foster of Cambridge, Ont., and Michelle Newhouse have each played in 14 games in goal for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia is the tournament's top seed. Duke is ranked fifth and seeded third. A win and West Virginia advances to the final four of the College Cup for the first time.
"It's a very special team," said Izzo-Brown, who is in her 21st season as the only coach in Mountaineer women’s soccer history. "With us achieving so much success and matching the furthest we've ever been in the NCCA tournament, I would have to say this is one of the best teams I've coached — because of the balance, because of the ability they have to find results and make sure that they finish games on top."
The other Canadians on the West Virginia roster are defender Easther Mayi Kith of Quebec City and defender Bianca St-Georges of St-Felix-de-Valois, Que. St-Georges captained Canada at the recent FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
All the Canadians have seen significant playing time.
Izzo-Brown says she has been recruiting from Canada for some 15 years, starting with Ontario and branching out to Quebec.
The Mountaineers (21-1-2 including 8-0 in Big 12 play) are making their second straight appearance in the tournament quarter-finals and their third trip in program history. They have never progressed past this stage, most recently losing 2-0 to eventual 2015 College Cup champion Penn State.
West Virginia's lone loss this season was a 1-0 defeat at the hands of No. 9 Georgetown on Sept. 18.
Saturday marks the first-ever tournament meeting between the Mountaineers and the Blue Devils (15-4-3, 7-2-1 ACC). The teams have met three times since 2013, with the series at 1-1-1.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press