WVU women’s soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown celebrates 27 seasons on campus this year. What’s her secret?
The first time Nikki Izzo-Brown put on soccer cleats she was a young girl, still in grade school, hoping to be just like her big brother, a soccer player. The family lived in upstate New York, where soccer was popular. Her mom even played in an adult league in their hometown. It didn’t take long for coaches and spectators to notice that Izzo-Brown had a love, passion, and talent for the sport that set her apart on the field.
That love, passion, and talent have followed her throughout a stunning, almost 40-year—and counting—history with the game. Izzo-Brown was selected this year by WV Living magazine as the recipient of the Bracelets of Victory award for her tenacity. She is one of the winningest coaches in West Virginia University athletics history and is embarking on her 27th year as head coach of the women’s soccer program. How’d she get there, you ask?
Izzo-Brown was an All-American standout for the University of Rochester Yellowjackets from 1989 to 1992. She graduated with a degree in psychology and expected to follow a path into the business world, until West Virginia Wesleyan offered her an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. She moved to Buckhannon and served as assistant coach for the women’s soccer program at the private university. By the following year, she was named the team’s head coach—that is, until 1995, when a bigger university down the road came knocking.
WVU offered Izzo-Brown the chance to be the first coach ever of the newly formed women’s soccer program—thanks, Title IX—and to build it from the ground up. She jumped at it. She entered the good ol’ boys club in Morgantown and carved out her space on campus.
“I tell my players all the time that everyone deserves a seat at the table. I had to break barriers in the past with male assistants, male referees, male coaches, etc., asking my male staff for lineups and stuff like that. I had to figure out early on how to make sure they knew I was the head coach. So, I became the very best version of myself as a coach, the best coach for this position, and today there’s no question who has the lineup.”
Coach Izzo-Brown spends a great deal of her time and energy developing her players, not just as athletes, but as human beings and future professionals. Academics is as important as practice in Izzo-Brown’s book, and her ability to connect with her athletes on a deeper level— year after year, generation after generation—is one of her most sharply honed skills.
This summer marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX in college sports, and Izzo-Brown credits the law with where she is today. “It’s so important for women to have these opportunities, and, if Title IX didn’t happen, we wouldn’t even be here today talking. That’s the story for most women’s soccer programs in this country,” she says. “I hope the next 50 years of Title IX will see female coaches paid on par with male coaches. Our national team players have paved the way for that conversation on a bigger scale. Hard work pays off, and women should be compensated the same for it.”
Izzo-Brown plans to continue beating the drum for equal pay in college athletics, but she doesn’t plan on leaving WVU anytime soon despite attempts by other programs to lure her away. “This is a very special place. I’ve said from day one that it’s the people here that make it so special. There is tremendous pride in this state and the university. It is a great place for young athletes to come, work hard and really develop, and become the best versions of themselves. I’m proud of what we’ve built here, and I have a true love for this university.”
The Making of A Champion
West Virginia University women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown has known success as a player and a coach.
As a college athlete in the early ’90s, Izzo-Brown was a starter for the University of Rochester.
She was recruited in 1995 to build the WVU women’s soccer program as its first head coach.
Izzo-Brown worked to make a name for herself and WVU women’s soccer in the Big East
In 2016, she led her team to the finals in the NCAA College Cup for the first time in the program’s history.
She created an elite program at WVU and is one of the most successful coaches in women’s soccer.
To All The “Little Ponytails”
Nikki Izzo-Brown’s advice to young female athletes who dream of big futures
Your passion is your power.
With consistency, hard work, and discipline, you can reach any goal. It will be a choice every day, and you gotta make it happen. But it’s important to remember that it’s this little ponytail’s choice every day.
I may be recognized for my tenacity, but that’s only possible because of the incredible people that I surround myself with on a daily basis. You need people who believe in you and your vision, and I find that daily in my family, my staff, and my alumni. Find that for yourself.