A minor penalty and a free pass – simple. A lobbed pass to junior attacker Megan Brolley – simple. A split-second hesitation as the VMI goaltender jumped out of position and let in a sneaky goal right under her extended arm – clutch.
The goal, Brolley’s third in the game, put the Colonials (15-14) up by two with just over a minute to play in the fourth, after VMI had scored three unanswered goals to cut the lead to one. From there, it took two defensive stops for GW to close out the game and win its final regular season match, 12-10.
“I knew we were only one goal ahead, so it needed to go in,” Brolley said. “She had been playing for the lob, the high shots, the whole time, so I thought I would just mix it up and fortunately it went in.”
The win allows the Colonials to wrap up the regular season with some momentum. In addition, the team’s 12 goals break the all-time program record, 277, for goals in a season, with 287.
After having played one another just over a week ago – a game which GW won 11-4 – the teams were familiar with each other’s style of play.
The Colonials took advantage of that knowledge first, jumping out to an early 4-2 lead in the first quarter. A goal from way outside by junior Katherine Berry and two goals by junior points leader Rachael Bentley helped contribute to the hot start.
“The game plan was to take advantage of the opportunities that we created for ourselves,” head coach Scott Reed said. “We spent three quarters the first time we played them really missing out on a lot of easy scoring opportunities. We wanted to make sure that we did that this game, and we did in the first quarter.”
As expected, though, VMI (12-22) began using a physical style of play to clamp down defensively. That defensive adjustment transferred over to offense for the Keydets in the second quarter, as they quickly cut the lead to one and began a back-and-forth battle with GW.
The first half became a strong defensive bout, with both goalkeepers coming up with some big saves. Playing in a smaller pool than the last meeting, GW had to rely on a set-up and counter offense, instead of the fast transition game that they usually like to play.
“We have a really good defense I think, and we played a strong press because we really trust our inside defenders and goalie to stop the shots when they need to be stopped,” Brolley said. “Then we look to counter, and the defense really feeds that counter.”
The Colonials never lost the lead that they acquired after the first possession, but a VMI goal to tie the game continually forced GW to respond on offense with a score of their own. A goal from junior Allison Littlejohn – who played the center position for the first time this season – helped extend the Colonials’ lead to 8-6 at the half.
With leading goal scorer Hannah Cox out with a wrist injury, the contributions from the rest of the Colonials offense were huge down the stretch. Littlejohn and freshman Erin Donoghue both put in the second of their two goals in the fourth. GW’s offense ignited, going on a 3-1 run to extend the halftime margin to 11-7.
But VMI refused to relent. Scoring three straight goals, the Keydets were down just one goal, 11-10, with less than three minutes left to play. It was Brolley’s clutch goal that finally put an end to this goal streak and closed the door on VMI’s chances.
“I think she [Brolley] had so many counterattack opportunities, transition opportunities, and it just opened up a lot of things for everyone else,” Reed said. “She scored some very big goals there.”
GW now moves to the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship, as it looks to improve off their fourth place finish at the CWPA Southern Division Championship. The seventh seeded Colonials will face 10th seeded Gannon on Friday.
“The way we’ve been playing these last couple of weeks, I’m very upbeat about how things look,” Reed said. “I think it’s anyone’s game out there, and whoever is playing the best team offense and the best team defense is gonna do well, and I think we could do well.”