WEST LIBERTY - As West Liberty continues to grow, this fall the university will embark on a new venture - women's soccer.
The program was around as a club sport last season, but officially becomes part of the slate with the Aug. 26 opener against Franciscan University.
The Hilltoppers will play 20 games with 11 conference games, including against rival Wheeling Jesuit on Oct. 6 in a Saturday night showdown on the Cardinals' campus.
''We are excited but there are still a lot of things to be worked out,'' West Liberty athletics director Jim Watson said. ''We think there is an interest in soccer and we have felt not having a program has held us back.''
The biggest hurdle through the years in getting a soccer program has been the land. There is not a lot of flat land in the town, making it hard to build a soccer field.
The team agreed on a lease with property from a local cemetery but there is still question on whether that will be ready by the time they are scheduled to open the home slate against the University of Pikeville on Aug. 31.
''It remains to be seen,'' Watson said. ''Like any program, the facilities are the biggest thing. We have to get those in order to be really sure how this is going to work out.''
West Liberty has spent plenty of money through the recent years in upgrading its facilities and it wants to make sure the soccer program fits right in line with those.
While many programs play on football/soccer fields, a soccer field is wider and longer than a football field and Russek Field doesn't meet NCAA requirements.
This will lead to an interesting decision as West Liberty may find itself playing all or many of its games on the road if the field isn't ready.
One thing Watson can be confident is that he has the right man for the job.
Former Bethany coach Barry Christmas was hired to lead the program, bringing his knowledge of the game and the area.
''He has a wealth of experience and he already has a few young ladies that he brought in here and is really generating interest in the program,'' Watson said. ''How long it will take for a winner is a question for Barry, but getting the facility up and running is going to be key in that.''
Once the facility is completed and depending on the success of the team, Watson expects there will be discussion on adding a men's program.
''You want to be sure you are doing it well, that is my feeling,'' Watson said. ''Getting the women established is the first goal and then we will take it from there.''