Craig Jones’ first victory as head coach was the sort of win that causes even the most experienced of coaches to lose their breath.
It wasn’t a blowout on either side of the ball, but was instead a tight, dramatic game that provided a glimpse of GW’s resilience in an exhausting double overtime bout. The Colonials beat the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds by just a single goal, 1-0, in their first game of the season, on a game-winner that came in the 107th minute of play.
Junior co-captain Tyler Ranalli netted the goal, his first game-winning tally as a Colonial, sliding in a rebound off sophomore Joe Holleran’s shot to earn GW the victory.
“I saw the ball come off the keeper, and you just react and hope it goes in. You have the confidence it goes in. I mean, you don’t really think, you just do it,” Ranalli said.
A physical first half sent senior co-captain Seth Rudolph to the bench with an injury just minutes after the game began. The tone of the half remained contentious, with both teams jockeying for position and disagreeing with calls.
That tone continued – and it stalled play.
During the first, the Colonials managed just two shots on net, and the Blackbirds only three. GW goalkeeper Alejandro Almodovar made the only save of the half.
Almodovar, a senior co-captain, said that though the Colonials started the game slowly, they were able to refocus during the break, returning to the pitch with renewed energy. Rudolph returned to play after the break and brought an energy that galvanized the rest of his team.
GW had five opportunities in the second half – the game remained deadlocked at the break – and play entered sudden death overtime. It necessitated unflinching presence in the net from Almodovar.
“My main thing is to stay focused, and make sure I’m really talking to my back line, making sure they’re staying focused. It’s a long game, and it’s easy to get distracted, especially going into overtime,” Almodovar said.
During the first overtime period, LIU had three shots on net, while the Colonials only shot once. Almodovar had impressive saves, leaping into the air to halt the path of the ball and keep his team in the game.
In the second overtime period, the Colonials once again had fewer shots than the Blackbirds, but Holleran was able to take advantage of an opening from the left side. The LIU goalkeeper couldn’t contain Holleran’s shot, and it ricocheted to Ranalli, who slotted it past the Blackbirds’ keeper.
“It was a good first, real pre-season game, especially for a lot of our younger guys,” Rudolph said. “To go through a tough battle, going into overtime, and they came through today, and got a W.”
Rudolph and Ranalli were quick to emphasize the Colonials’ chemistry, calling the team a family on and off the field. But the captains recognize that GW is also a young and somewhat inexperienced team. With support from their coaching staff, and the kind of effort they put in against LIU, the team can be successful, they believe.
While Jones agrees, he also points to the particular challenge GW’s schedule will pose for the team this year. The Colonials will see a lot of weekends with two matches scheduled, playing on Fridays and having to turn around quickly for Sunday matches. That kind of rigorous season, Jones said, emphasizes the importance of keeping his team fit and healthy.
“For us, it’s just trying to keep building on what we do each week. You know, improve by a little every game and hopefully keeping the guys fit,” Jones said.
The Colonials next take on George Mason Thursday, but they’re already thinking ahead to conference competition.
After placing second in the A-10 championship last season and falling in a frustrating overtime loss, the team wants a chance to avenge its loss and claim the title this season.
“For the whole group, within some of their individual goals, I think everybody has that down as our aim,” Jones said.