They lost early. They lost often. But when their season was on the line, the GW men’s soccer team could not be defeated.
After losing eight out of their first 12 games, the Colonials went on a nine-game unbeaten streak that was capped off Sunday with a win in the Atlantic 10 Championship at Mount Vernon.
In front of more than 800 fans at the Mount Vernon Athletic Complex, the Colonials beat Temple 2-0 to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament and GW’s second A-10 title in three years. They will play Friday or Saturday against a first-round opponent to be announced on Monday.
En route to the championship, GW (9-8-4, 7-3-2 A-10) defeated Rhode Island (12-8-1, 6-4-1 A-10) and top-seeded Duquesne (13-6-1, 9-2-0 A-10) before defeating the Owls (12-8-2, 7-3-2 A-10). The weekend was a showcase not only for GW’s team but also for its soccer facilities, which hosted the conference tournament for the first time. For the first half of the year, it looked like the team would not be able to qualify for the tournament. They only won one of their first 12 games and had to beat most of their conference rivals in the last three weeks of the season to earn a spot.
“We knew it was there, this was the expectation that we hold ourselves at,” senior captain Trent Wilee said. “We are arrogant and we kind of expect to win. That’s how confident we are, we’d be disappointed if we didn’t. I had nothing but faith.”
Head coach George Lidster said early in the season, the Colonials made little mistakes that cost them a lot of close games. But as the season progressed, those mistakes seemed to disappear, he said.
“It was really frustrating,” he said. “When you’re 1-8-3, all those defeats really mount up. You’re worried about this team falling apart and players blaming each other. But that didn’t happen and the group kept together.”
In Sunday’s final match against Temple, the Colonials dominated the field from the first whistle to the last. Eight minutes into the game, senior Matt Miller headed the ball to junior Steve Brown, who nailed it into the top corner to put GW up 1-0.
Twenty minutes into the second half, junior Andre Chapman, GW’s leading scorer, beat Owls defenders on the right side of the field and connected on a shot to the lower left corner of the goal. In the last five minutes of the game, a Temple shot hit the top post before junior goalkeeper Derek Biss reached out to deflect the Owls’ final shot.
Biss, who has allowed just one goal in the last five games, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“I didn’t win this on my own, our defense played great,” he said. “Today I had maybe one shot that I had to deal with. They did a very good job of holding out people and making sure I have as little to deal with as possible.”
The Colonials won back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday to make it to the finals. The semifinal on Friday was particularly close, as the Colonials beat Duquesne on penalty kicks. The Dukes were the best team in the conference this season, defeating GW 3-1 during their regular season match-ups.
In a cold rainy Friday, each team scored on a penalty kick to end regulation time with a 1-1 tie. The Dukes scored with under a minute remaining in the first half, and junior Ben Mortimer answered back almost 30 minutes into the second half to tie the score 1-1.
Neither team scored in the two overtime periods, so the outcome was decided by a shootout. Biss made two diving saves in the first and third round, and a Mortimer shot gave the Colonials the deciding 4-3 edge.
“It was amazing seeing so many people coming out and supporting us all weekend,” senior captain Matt Miller said. “At the first two games, especially in the rain, and then the turnout (Sunday), it pushed us over the edge.”
In the opening round of the tourney against Rhode Island, junior Frank Ambrosio scored in the 67th minute of the game to give GW a 1-0 victory. Sophomore Jeremiah Burke and junior Trevor Martin were credited with the assist.
Lidster said the team’s overall success came with hard work – and a little bit of good fortune.