WVU stars to represent Canada at World Cup

From the time she recruited them to come to West Virginia, women's soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown saw a certain something special in Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

And now, two of the players who have played a vital role in the Mountaineers' dominance in the Big 12 Conference the last two seasons will get to appear on their biggest stage yet when they make their debut in the FIFA Women's World Cup representing their home country of Canada.

"(We knew) they had a high level of athleticism, but they also have that great understanding of the game you don't see every day," Izzo-Brown said. "Does it shock me that they're this young and they can play on the highest stage in soccer? No, because I know all the hard work and dedication they put forth into it. It's not a shocker at all. They're so talented and they're so hard-working. It's very exciting to get to see."

The duo of Canadians are just the most recent, and most prolific, in a long line of Canadian internationals to play in Morgantown with the Mountaineers, as Izzo-Brown has built quite a pipeline in the Great White North. While some might find it odd that West Virginia goes to the country for players, it's a logical step for Izzo-Brown as the Toronto area (where WVU has gotten the majority of its Canadian players from in the past) is just a little more than six hours away from Morgantown.

"It just made a whole lot of sense when you look at the parents and travel ability," Izzo-Brown said. "I know Canada soccer and being able to get up there and have a good understanding of their development and where I could keep developing them, it seemed like a smart move."

It was no surprise that Buchanan and Lawrence made their rise to this level with the senior national team, as both competed for their country in CONCACAF tournaments and the U17 and U20 World Cups in the past.

Buchanan has been a constant in Canada's starting 11 in the last few years on the back line at center back, and at 19 years old is already beginning to emerge as one of the best players in the world at her position, while Lawrence has slowly started to break into the lineup and play a greater role for the tournament's hosts in the midfield. Lawrence and Buchanan both started in Canada's final tune-up for the World Cup, a 1-0 victory in a friendly against England. One major benefit of the two building up this level of experience this early in their careers has been that the attention and pressure of the World Cup hasn't fazed them and they've been able to keep their heads down and continue to focus on the task at hand while not letting the moment get the most of them.

"I look and here's Keisha on a (commemorative stamp in Canada, in honor of the country's first time hosting the tournament). I don't know anybody on a stamp that's alive and she's playing it down," Izzo-Brown said. "She just said it's part of the process and they just picked it. They're both so humble and wonderful young women to be around.

"It's so important because we can help them grow as soccer players, and I want to be part of their development. To have these two athletes on the highest stage possible in soccer, and to know that they have developed here at West Virginia, it just makes me so proud that I am able to work with them. I'm able to help them achieve their goals and maximize their potential."

Izzo-Brown and her family will travel to Edmonton, where Canada will play its first two games of group play against China and New Zealand before playing their final game of the round-robin stage against Netherlands in Montreal, and several Mountaineers will also be making the trip on their own.

"We're behind them and we are supporting them," Izzo-Brown said of her message to Buchanan and Lawrence before they left for Canada. "We want them to focus on winning the World Cup. I tried to help keep them focused and they understand that everyone here is doing their job and we are going to be waiting for them when they get back in July."

Canada's opening game against China PR will be Saturday at 6 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.

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