In each of the last five years, the GW women’s soccer team has run into a roadblock at the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The Colonial women have lost to Massachusetts – the conference’s defending champion – in the last five A-10 tournaments.
But this may be the year GW could either break through the roadblock or swerve around it, as UMass is no longer the dominant team in the conference.
“I think regardless of how each team is ranked this year, this has been the first year where it has been more even all the way around,” GW head coach Michele Rodriguez-Smith said.
Second-seeded GW (11-9, 9-2 A-10) will face third-seeded Xavier in the second A-10 semifinal Friday at 8 p.m. at Dayton’s home field. Top-seeded Dayton will face fourth-seeded UMass in the first semifinal at 5:30 p.m.
Before GW worries about UMass or the final, it must dispatch Xavier (10-6-2, 8-2-1). The Colonial women won 1-0 at Xavier Oct. 26. To win, Rodriguez-Smith said her team must control Annette Gruber, Xavier’s leading scorer with 10 goals.
“If we keep her (Gruber) out of the game, we should do fine,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “We need to possess the ball and control it, give them less time on the ball. That’s pretty much what we did against them during the season.”
Xavier scored 23 goals this season, with all of its scores coming from just four players. GW has a much more balanced offensive attack. Nine different Colonial women have scored this season, including seven different players with at least one game-winning goal. Senior Jane Lea leads GW in every offensive category (eight goals, six assists, 22 points).
If both GW and UMass make it to the finals, the Colonial women could build on their success against UMass (10-10, 7-4) this season. GW beat the Minutewomen 1-0 Oct. 9 at South Riding Field – GW’s first victory over UMass in the program’s history.
Rodriguez-Smith said her team is eager to avenge past tournament losses to UMass, including a 1-0 defeat in last year’s A-10 Championship in which the Minutewomen scored the winning goal in the closing minutes.
“Mentally, we know we can beat them because we have already done that,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “At the same time, if we end up facing UMass in the finals, we are still going to be looking for a little bit of revenge. Last year’s game is still in the back of our minds. We still want that opportunity to face them again.”
GW may face Dayton (13-4-2, 9-1-1), the regular season champion, in the tournament final. The Colonial women lost to the Flyers 2-1 in the regular season.
“If we play them, we need to set the pace of the game,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “Last time Dayton pretty much determined the pace, and it was pretty frantic. When we go up against them, we need to just put them away, and that’s something we haven’t done to too many teams this year.”
The Colonial women also have their eyes set on the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with winning the A-10 title. GW received an at-large bid to the NCAAs two years ago – losing to the University of Maryland in the first round.
At the beginning of the season, after enduring a six-game losing streak, an NCAA appearance seemed to be out of the question. Now, the Colonial women are just two wins away from making NCAAs again.
“We can’t not think about it (the automatic bid),” Rodriguez-Smith said. “That’s the thing that’s been in the back of our mind since we entered October, when we decided to put the first part of the season behind us. It’s not something we talk about every day, but it’s there.”