The women’s soccer team did not secure its first conference win last season until its final game, a 4-1 defeat of Saint Louis. It was a nice ending to a dreadful season, where GW failed to earn an Atlantic 10 tournament spot.
GW will begin this season though with renewed confidence, despite losing its top scorer on a team already struggling to put balls in the net. The key this year, second-year head coach Sarah Barnes said, will be to take advantage of scoring opportunities that the team’s strong defense produces.
“It’s a lot easier to destroy rather than create. We talk a lot about really valuing possession,” Barnes said. “We work so hard defensively to win it that we really need to put a lot of value in keeping the ball.”
The team will have work to do. The Colonials scored one or fewer goals in 13 of their 18 games last year, including nine shutouts. The leader on the attack, recent graduate Adriana Moya, who co-led the team with eight points scored, is no longer around to ignite the offense.
For now, the only proven offensive threat is sophomore Kristi Abbate, who also recorded a team-leading eight points last season. Abbate, who said she worked on her shot and overtime endurance during the offseason, will have to step into a leadership role on the pitch, though the forward said she doesn’t feel the pressure.
“I don’t feel like my role has really changed that much because I have awesome teammates that have really pushed me to be the best I can be,” Abbate said, adding that she is “trying to help out people that are younger than me – trying to do what they taught me.”
To help take the load off of Abbate’s back, Barnes said she wants the team to take care of the ball, and make quality passes instead of blind ones. “We’re really trying to get them to think about being aggressive, getting to the goal, taking shots, following up and sort of just making them a little more hungry and a little more willing to take risks,” Barnes said.
As the offense faltered last year, the team’s defense almost equally stymied the opposition. GW lost five games by a score of just 1-0 last year, all without the anchor of its defense, senior goalkeeper Nicole Ulrick. After tallying five saves in the season opener against Georgetown lat year, Ulrick suffered a season-ending injury in the same game. This year, Ulrick said she is ready for a full, healthy senior season after a summer of full training, without setbacks.
“Our [defensive alignment] is really strong, so there is just more we can do. And building forward we can get to the attack faster. We can just really take our game from last year and last spring and take it to the next level,” Ulrick said.
In two exhibition games this month, the team has shown off a bit of why it has reason to be confident. GW won two matches in shutouts against a weak VMI team and a more respected Delaware squad. The exhibitions end there, though, as regular season competition begins Friday at American.
In the first exhibition of the season, GW beat VMI 4-0 with a mix of veteran and younger players on the field. The Colonials netted two goals in both halves and outshot the Keydets 37-1, with an unassisted goal by Abbate early in the second half.
They went on to defeat Delaware 1-0 in dramatic fashion thanks to the foot of freshman Kate Elson. With two minutes to go in regulation and still scoreless, Abbate started the attack, and then a pass from Neal led to the score by Elson to win the game. Freshmen, like Elson, appear to be getting their share of play early on.
“They give us a tremendous amount of depth. We could use any number of them in a very difficult game and we would not expect the level to drop off,” Barnes said.
Despite the success in the preseason, Barnes said her players are still not using every opportunity to shoot on goal. She wants to see more of that turnover-forcing defense and dynamic offense against AU, as the team looks to build its reputation within the A-10.
“We want to keep ourselves on teams’ radars. We want them to be, ‘Oh, we’re playing GW. They’re a tough team to play against,'” senior defender Melanie Keer said. “A new tradition, that we are known as a team that’s hard to play against.”