When a team is known for its No. 2 nationally ranked defense, it’s easy to overlook offense. The No. 3 Mountaineers (11-1, 2-0) have won games all season long behind the efforts of their nationally acclaimed back line.
The team has so far been one of the most dominant in the country, led by FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player Kadeisha Buchanan and senior goalkeeper Hannah Steadman who has posted 10 shutouts in 12 games.
The Mountaineer defense ranks second in the nation in shutout percentage and goals against average and leads the country in shutouts. Clearly, the nationally-recognized defense is largely responsible for the Mountaineers’ No. 3 ranking, the highest in program history.
However, no team is complete without a reliable offensive base to complement the defense. Numbers don’t lie, and looking at the numbers the Mountaineers have produced, the offense is just as big a factor for their success as the defense.
Nobody is more responsible for success on the offensive end than sophomore forward Michaela Abam, who is leading the Mountaineers in goals for a second year in a row. As last year’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Abam led West Virginia with seven goals. Abam’s stats ranked her fourth in the Big 12 in goals and sixth in points as a true freshman.
Abam began the 2015 season with big hopes, being named to the preseason All-Big 12 team. Abam is also one of three Mountaineers ranked in the top 100 in the country by TopDrawerSoccer.com. Kadeisha Buchanan takes the No. 1 national ranking, Abam is ranked 69th, and junior midfielder Ashley Lawrence ranks 75th.
In Friday night’s game against TCU, Abam had the deciding goal in the 81st minute to surpass her total from last year. Her eight goals through just 12 games tie her for 29th in the country and place her at second in the Big 12.
Since the Mountaineers’ Aug. 29 loss against Virginia Tech, they have gone on a path of destruction, winning 10 straight games and outscoring opponents 27-1. Before TCU’s 29th minute goal by Michelle Prokof, who leads the Big 12 in scoring, the Mountaineers had not allowed a goal in nine games, a program record.
During that 10-game stretch, Abam posted eight goals, including a program-record four goals against Villanova in an 8-0 win that also set a program record.
"I’m extremely proud of Michaela, she’s definitely worked hard to transform her game this summer," said Mountaineer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown following that historic performance. "Michaela really made sure she turned (her fitness) around and is able to play full speed for 90 minutes."
Despite already passing her scoring total from last season, Abam has no plans of slowing down, with six games still on the regular season slate.
"It feels awesome, it just makes me want to score more," Abam said.
Abam credits her teammates for her success, with many of her scoring opportunities coming as a result of a rebound or a beautifully placed cross from a teammate.
"I have a great team, I have a great environment around me," Abam said. "So I make sure during training that while they’re making me better, I’m doing the same."
Abam said that she learns from her elder teammates, Buchanan and Lawrence, who got experience playing in the World Cup this summer for Canada. Abam herself was a member of the USA Under-17 national team and was the No. 18 ranked recruit in the nation before committing to play for Izzo-Brown.
While Abam has learned from her older teammates, newcomer Nia Gordon has looked up to her for guidance. Gordon credits a lot of her fast start this season to Abam’s mentoring during the offseason.
"She just does the unexpected… She’s so quick and her shot is so powerful. She’s just overall an amazing player. She’s the best striker I’ve seen, ever," Gordon said.
Abam leads the Mountaineers in goals (8), shots (65) and shots on goal (25) and is second only to senior Kailey Utley in game-winning goals (2) and points (16). Abam and Utley combine with Ashley Lawrence and freshman Nia Gordon to be responsible for 17 of the team’s 30 goals this season, which ties them for 16th in the country.
Abam and the No. 3 ranked Mountaineers take on Oklahoma (8-1-4, 0-0) and Texas Tech (7-1-4, 0-2) this weekend, before returning home for their final two home games of the regular season.