To Lisa Stoia, the start of training camp ahead of the college soccer season is the best time of the year.
“It’s like Christmas,” said the Shirley, Long Island-native and senior associate head coach for West Virginia University’s women’s soccer team.
Unlike the end of the 2016 season, when the Mountaineers lost the national title game 3-1 to USC, Stoia is hoping this season ends with a national championship trophy for the preseason top-ranked team in Division I women’s soccer.
Now in her 11th season as a member of West Virginia’s coaching staff, Stoia’s time at the university dates back to 2000, when she played for head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. During her playing days, Stoia was a four-year letterwinner and set school career records for assists (33) and matches played and started (87).
As a senior, she set a program record with 12 assists and was second on the team with seven goals and 26 points en route to being named Big East Midfielder of the Year along with NSCAA and Soccer Buzz All-America accolades.
Just prior to the start of West Virginia’s preseason camp, Stoia, a graduate of William Floyd High School and a member of its Hall of Fame, spoke with SleterFC.com about the forthcoming 2017 season and her memories of playing soccer on Long Island.
SLETERFC.COM: As you start training camp, what is your overview of the team?
LISA STOIA: While we lost four or five very good seniors we are returning a lot of kids from last year. I’m excited to see what the girls will be bringing in training. They have the energy and are excited and have been hungry since our last game of last season when we lost the national championship game. During the spring the focus was on the fall, and during the summer the focus was on the fall.
SFC.COM: With the returning players, how does last year’s experience and run to the finals help them?
LS: They know they have a big target on their back and that they are the team to beat. We are returning nine starters and have a big class of girls coming in. They are willing to take on that pressure and put it on their shoulders. Ultimately they know the goal is to get back to the title game and win it. They understand that every day is a new day and they have to put the work in each day. We have a big senior class that has the experience, leadership skills and determination.
SFC.COM: How did a girl from Long Island end up in West Virginia?
LS: Honestly, it was Nikki. I was fortunate to be able to go to any school I wanted but Nikki had a different selling point. She talked about what she envisioned for me and what she was developing with the program. For me, I wanted to help a coach that at the time was building the program. That was the main reason I came to West Virginia and I’ve never left.
SFC.COM: You’re starting your 11th season with West Virginia. What has kept you at the school for so many years?
LS: For me, it’s all about loyalty. I came here as a player with the goal of winning a national title. This program has given me opportunities to do so many wonderful things and playing for Nikki is what made me want to get involved in college coaching. I now want to give back to the future generations that come here and be the best role model possible for the kids.
SFC.COM: Over the years how has the recruiting process changed?
LS: It varies, but for us at West Virginia, at one time a lot of people did not know about us. But the [postseason] runs we have made in recent years has helped open a lot of doors for us. This is now a place that players can feel like they have an opportunity to win championships. We also have recruits that are very diverse and come from Mexico, Canada, England the U.S. They also know that this is a place that produces professional athletes.
SFC.COM: When you look back at your playing days on Long Island, what are some of your fondest memories?
LS: Long Island is a special place and has a number of highly qualified coaches. I was fortunate to have a very good club team. Much like we are at West Virginia, my club team — the New Hyde Park Lady Bengals — was very much like a family. My club team coach, Marty Hearney, was also terrific and I still stay in touch with many of my teammates. I can’t speak highly enough of what he did for us.