If you’re standing on the sidelines of a women’s soccer game, you’ll probably find your eyes drawn to freshman forward Kristi Abbate.
Abbate is a natural playmaker. She dribbles around defenders, sets up her teammates for scoring opportunities and finds the time to score the occasional goal of her own.
She’s the linchpin to the Colonials offensive attack – yet she’s also a newcomer. Head coach Sarah Barnes has 11 freshmen on her squad, but Abbate stands out as the freshman starter who plays like a seasoned veteran.
“She’s a competitor, and that’s not a freshman quality,” Barnes said. “The intensity needed to be a competitor is something that you either have or you do not, and she has it.”
Abbate’s netted two goals this season, and she’s tallied a single assist, but her statistics do not represent her impact on games.
Last season, the Colonials relied on strong defense and breakaway goals to stay competitive in games. But this year, Abbate’s stepped into a role as the link between both ends of the field, able to collect the ball in the middle of the pitch and make necessary choices to ignite the offense. Her heads-up maneuvers open up the field for the rest of her team, turning GW into a cohesive unit on the attacking end.
“I will do anything that I can to make the team better,” Abbate said. “I want to be more of a scorer, but I am more of a playmaker at the moment. That’s what our team needs, so I will be a player who makes those plays.”
And it’s not just the Colonials noticing her impact – opponents have begun to focus their defensive efforts on stopping the freshman, ramping up their physical play to slow Abbate’s pace.
It’s forced her to adjust quickly to the higher tempo and increased physicality of the collegiate game, a change Barnes said is way above any sort of metamorphosis she expected to see in Abbate’s inaugural season.
“She is managing some difficult things as a freshman. She’s marked closely, and defenders are very physical against her and that’s a hard thing to deal with. But she comes in every game fighting and every game having an impact,” Barnes said. “She’s exceeded expectations in that way.”
While her first season as a Colonial is already considered a success by her coaches, Abbate watches game film to evaluate her performances and identify weak spots in her game.
“I am starting to get more experience with it, but I am still getting used to playing college soccer,” Abbate said. “I hope that by my senior year I am a captain, and I want a chance to make the NCAA tournament and I want to be one of the top scorers in the A-10 but I’ll have to wait and see.”
Her head coach, too, has lofty goals for Abbate’s future. It’s in the forward’s “DNA to strive for excellence,” Barnes said, and she sees the freshman as a key cornerstone for the women’s soccer team as Barnes works to build the Colonials into an Atlantic 10 contender for years to come.
Barnes sees Abbate as a leader on the field and a player who never gives anything below her best effort. And when Abbate plays hard, her teammates cannot help but replicate the intensity of her play.
“I think that everybody leads in their own way and Kristi is not the kid in the locker room before the game talking to everyone. That’s not her role on this team. But when you see her on the field and see the way that she plays, she certainly leads by example,” Barnes said. “She tackles hard, she sprints back and helps defensively, and she gets into the box to attack the other team’s goal. She is everywhere on the field.”