It didn’t seem to matter to women’s soccer head coach Tanya Vogel that her team fell 1-0 last Saturday at George Mason in its final pre-season exhibition match. She smiled and stood in the light rain, discussing her team’s slow start and missed scoring opportunities, all without a trace of frustration.
With her team’s regular season debut just under a week away, a mere exhibition loss was not much to be concerned with, Vogel said. Instead, they worked on little things: spreading the ball wide and pressuring the ball defensively. It will be those kinds of skills that the Colonials will have to perfect if they are to accomplish their goal for this season, and Vogel believes she is the perfect coach to help them do it.
“Their focus is on being the best team that GW’s ever had, which means that we would be back in the A-10 tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Vogel said. “They’re gonna focus on being the best, and since currently I was on the best team, I can help them do that.”
The team Vogel mentions, the best in GW history, went 10-7-4 in 1996, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Vogel was a team captain for the Colonials that season and was named Atlantic 10 player of the year.
The 2010 Colonials, by contrast, are coming off a 2009 season in which they went 4-5-2 in Atlantic 10 play and found themselves on the outside looking in at the A-10 tournament, a tournament they haven’t qualified for since 2002. Overcoming GW’s recent struggles will be crucial, Vogel said, if the Colonials hope to extend their season for the first time in eight years.
“When you are a team that doesn’t have a recent history of success, it’s tough to come every day with that mentality, like we can compete with anybody,” Vogel said. “We will do that this year.”
“That little bit of swagger, that little bit of ego, that little bit of confidence that needs to come on the field with us to start the game is gonna be part of it,” she added.
As they look to develop swagger, GW will also look to some of its younger players to fill the voids left by last season’s five departing seniors, especially that of 2009 leading scorer Brittany Eger.
Potentially filling at least part of the void in 2010 will be freshmen Alex Neal and Jane Wallis, both of whom were named to the pre-season A-10 All-Rookie Team. Neal, a defender, set a scoring record as a senior in high school last season with 37 goals. Wallis, a midfielder, helped lead her high school team to three New York state class B championships.
But even with a pair All-Rookie Team members headlining the freshman class, Vogel said becoming one of the top teams in the A-10 will be a gradual process, especially once the season gets going.
“One of the things I said to this team is if they get better every half, as they have already this season. we will be a really good team this year,” she said. “But that takes a lot of energy. It’s easy to do it early in the season, much more difficult as we start to fine-tune and tweak things.”
On Saturday night, Vogel saw the kinds of improvements she was looking for. After opening the game flat, GW dominated the second half, nearly tying the game at least twice. The Colonials responded when pushed by a more physical Mason squad, and kept pushing even after the Patriots scored their lone goal in the first half, on a ricochet off the cross bar that crossed the end line by inches.
As GW prepares for its first regular season match of the year, a road game this Friday at District-rival Georgetown at 3 p.m., the message from Vogel to her team is clear. For a team with such lofty goals, confidence, as much as anything else they do on the field, will be key.
“If we’re 9-0 going into conference [play], we’re gonna feel pretty damn good, but even if we’re 1-8 or 2-7, we still have the talent to be great,” Vogel said. “I honestly think that ego, that swag, has to come from within these 27 players. They’ve gotta believe it, they’ve gotta bring it to practice and they’ve gotta bring it to games, and if they do, I think you’re gonna see us be very successful this year.”u