In her first collegiate game, freshman Mackenzie Cowley has already managed to raise the bar high for herself, scoring the game-winning goal in GW’s season opener against American on Friday.
Tied 0-0 in the 72nd minute, sophomore Kristi Abbate took a short corner pass from senior Jane Wallis and immediately fired it towards the net. Her shot clattered off the right goal post, just wide of the AU goalie’s outstretched arms, and fell right into Cowley’s lap for a wide-open 1-0 Colonial advantage.
“We’d been working on corners all week, so I knew where I was supposed to be,” Cowley said. “I’m at the [penalty kick marker], so Jane played it to Kristi and I just saw the ball coming in and my instinct was to follow it up.”
Cowley’s goal stood as the difference in the offensively sluggish match, showing for the second game in a row that this year’s freshmen may be the offensive weapons that GW was missing from last year’s squad.
With the rookies’ help, the Colonials have now scored a goal in three straight games (two exhibitions), something that happened only once during all of last season.
“I think that we are more offensive,” Cowley said. “And we’re gonna add – like Kate [Elson] already scored one goal and then I added another one – so I think we’re gonna help the team bringing in goals.”
If the offense can continue to get on the board, as Cowley says, the pressure to keep games close will be lifted off the backs of the strong GW backline.
Early on in Friday’s game, though, it was still the defense that was coming up big for GW.
Despite completely dominating on ball control, the Colonials failed to muster a shot on goal in the first, compared to three for the Eagles. Though only in short bursts, AU successfully played in long lob passes to the Colonial zone and put GW senior goalkeeper Nicole Ulrick to the test.
Ulrick responded by corralling all three Eagles’ shots, allowing her teammates to prepare for a more aggressive second half.
“We didn’t do as well in the first half, but in the second half we did a better job of putting pressure on the ball, on the passer, before the ball got wide,” head coach Sarah Barnes said. “If they don’t have time to pick their head up and find the wide open player then they can’t play it in.”
With scattered rain still coming down, the Colonials jumped out on the offensive in the second half, combining ball control with their speed on the wet grass for some open opportunities.
“In the first half I think we were a little nervous, so we were a little stagnant,” Barnes said. “So I think that our movement and mobility off the ball improved significantly and they were dropping so we had to take advantage of that and take some shots and try to pull them out a little bit.”
By the end of the half, GW would outshoot AU 5-1, making the total number of shots for the game 7-4.
Junior Nicole Belfonti, who tied with Cowley for a team-high two shots, sent a shot from deep just off the crossbar. Freshman Kate Elson, the hero in last week’s Delaware exhibition, played the ball off a throw in and again saw her shot go just wide.
Less than two minutes later though, Abbate would send in an aggressive shot and Cowley would be there to complete the play, something Barnes said was more clever than lucky.
“We really sort of leave it up to them to make a game-time decision, just to read the situation and go from there,” Barnes said. “And I think we were having some success at that point in the game at running at them and taking them on so it was a great decision to play short.”
As the minutes wound down, AU continued its strategy to play the ball outside and look to cross it into the box, but GW’s defense stayed firm and fought off one last Eagle threat to hold onto the 1-0 victory.
With the season’s first victory now under their belt, the Colonials hope to keep the offense going as they head next week to take on District rival and top 25 contender, Georgetown, and Saint Francis (Pa.) in the second-annual D.C. Invitational.
“We’re very excited,” Cowley said. “We’re out for some revenge.”