Women’s soccer’s playoff hopes alive, just barely

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Junior midfielder Nicole Belfonti races down the field last month against VCU.

Entering Sunday’s game, the women’s soccer team knew its path to the postseason would have to be smooth to clinch a bid.

After dropping a crucial game to George Mason on Friday, the Colonials would have to win their final two conference games against both VCU and Richmond in order to guarantee a birth in the Atlantic 10 Championships. Anything less, and the Colonials would no longer control their own playoff hopes.

That’s why despite hanging tough with a relentless VCU team (8-5-3, 3-1-2), GW’s team got the wind knocked out of it Sunday. The Colonials couldn’t break a 0-0 double overtime deadlock – an outcome that gives them some momentum, but no clear path to their first postseason berth since 2002.

“I’d rather have a tie than a loss and I’d rather have a shutout than a 1-1 tie or anything, so this was the best case scenario besides winning, that we could have had,” goalie Nicole Ulrick said. “Right now it just means we’re not in control of what happens next.”

Despite the tie, GW played one of its strongest overall games of the season. The Colonials racked up a total of 11 shots, with four on goal in the first half alone – trumping the Rams’ two shots, with one on goal.

But that also means that GW missed opportunities. Sophomore Brook Beane just missed a header in the third minute of play, while junior Nicole Belfonti had a great look in the ninth minute that was saved by the goalkeeper.

With the ball loose, senior Alex Neal had a chance to volley a rebound shot but sailed it over the goal. In the 43rd minute, senior Jane Wallis took one of her four total shots, but the VCU goalie saved it by the right post.

That was just the first period of play, and it meant plenty of groans from GW’s sidelines.
In a sound defensive performance, Ulrick saved six shots in the double overtime game, although she never had to make game saving leaps to stop a VCU attack, thanks to her team’s strong defensive effort.

Overtime saw the Colonials pressing for a goal and making quick, smart passes to each other – none of which could quite result in a GW breakthrough.
Following the loss, a visibly deflated team heard relieving news from head coach Sarah Barnes, who told her players that other teams in the playoff hunt had tied and they still had a shot.

Despite their playoff picture hanging in the balance, Barnes said the Colonials kept their composure throughout the game.

“They looked focused,” Barnes said. “If you’re playing not to lose and you’re playing worrying about what the result is going to be because you want to make A-10s, you probably aren’t going to be able to focus on the things you need to do to execute to be successful. And we really tried to talk about to play loose and [to] play as hard as you can, and really trust that the outcome will come.”

The tie brings the Colonials to a 2-3-2 conference record, putting them in eighth place, clinging to the final playoff spot.

A win against Richmond at home next Sunday will keep their hopes of postseason play alive. The A-10 standings were in constant flux Sunday after a handful of teams, important to the fate of GW, were in action.

With a win Sunday afternoon against VCU, GW could have held a fair amount of confidence about securing a playoff spot, something the Colonials haven’t done since 2002. The Colonials will have to beat Richmond this Sunday at home to ensure postseason play.

“[We need to] really leave everything we have Sunday because it could be our last game if we don’t,” Ulrick said. “I have confidence that we will, especially after today.”

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