The GW women’s soccer team is looking forward to improving on its 13-6-2 (9-2 Atlantic 10) record and second-place conference finish in the 1997 season.
However, the Colonial women have had a tough start to the season, losing their first four games. GW is adjusting to the graduation of several key players from last year’s team and injuries this season, but the team hopes to rebound from the slow start.
The changes started at the top, as former head coach Shannon Higgins-Cirovski left the team and former assistant coach Michelle Rodriguez-Smith took the reins this year as interim head coach.
“It has been an easy transition for me and for the team,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “It has been smooth for (assistant coach) Brian (Pensky) as well. We both have similar coaching philosophies.”
Rodriguez-Smith said she believes the team has the potential to go far this season. She said she feels the players on this year’s team who played on the 1996 NCAA Tournament team will be a key ingredient in the 1998 season.
“They (the women on the NCAA team) hunger for a
repeat through hard work and dedication,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “They understand excellence.”
The Colonial women also suffered two other key losses. Chemar Smith, GW’s all-time leading point and goal scorer, and goalkeeper Traci Jensen both graduated in May. The goalie situation for GW has been unstable early in the season, with junior Rima Sidhu and freshman Shannon Ashfield splitting time in GW’s net.
The offense this season will be led by forwards Lauren Papalia and Jane Anderson. Sophomore Papalia was second on the team in goals in 1997 while Anderson, a senior, posted eight goals and eight assists.
Three freshmen also should add depth to this year’s team. Sweeper Courtney Wright, center midfielder Keisha Christoph and defender Angelica Caramanica all have started games this season.
The slow start can be attributed to a variety of factors – from tough opposition to mounting injuries – but Rodriguez-Smith said she believes the Colonial women will bounce back soon.
“We are playing with almost no substitutes,” she said. “We have a small squad this year, and right now we have six people who are injured and can’t play. Right now, our fitness levels are up, but we will need to have those players back as the season moves on.”
Sidhu said she is confident that the team will come together. This year, the team is using a new formation in addition to adjusting to Rodriguez-Smith’s coaching style, both of which will take some time for players to get accustomed.
“It will eventually work out,” Sidhu said. “We will get the kinks out.”
Sidhu and Rodriguez-Smith said the Colonial women are in great physical shape – the team has spent a lot of time on conditioning and fitness.