Last season, women’s soccer scored two goals against a Georgetown team that finished No. 20 in the country, snapped powerhouse La Salle’s 19-match regular-season conference win streak, posted the most shutouts – eight – in a season since 1994 and played in the Atlantic 10 Championships for the first time in 11 years.
And, after a 1-1 draw against American last week and a 1-0 win against Delaware in exhibition play Saturday, confidence is radiating from the team as it looks to build on the success of last year’s 7-5-5 season.
“I think we’re going to get more wins this year,” sophomore forward MacKenzie Cowley said. But the A-10 is not entirely convinced.
Coaches ranked GW seventh in a preseason conference poll this month, the same seed the Colonials had going into the A-10 Championships last year, when they lost 0-2 to La Salle in the first round.
The modest expectations may stem from the loss of five seniors, including goalkeeper Nicole Ulrik, who started all 18 games in the net last season, and top-scoring midfielder Jane Wallis.
The Colonials struggled to score last season, averaging 1.11 goals per game and suffering five consecutive shutouts during one stretch of the season. Finding the offensive firepower to replace Wallis will be a top priority.
Much of the burden to find the net may fall on junior forward and Preseason All-Conference First Team selection Kristi Abbate, who couldn’t find her golden touch last year after a stunning freshman season when she scored three goals and added two assists. Still, Abbate started to look more comfortable in the final games of her goalless season.
GW will likely rely on Abbate as the go-to scorer the team hoped she would be last year, and will look for a strong sophomore season from Cowley, who tied Lina Proska for second in goals scored on the team last season with three.
Moving forward, Cowley said the team would need to learn to better take advantage of openings for goals.
“I think finishing is something we also struggle with,” Cowley said. “This year, we just need to focus in the final third and capitalize on the opportunities that we have.”
While offense may present the greatest challenge, both Cowley and senior defender Alex Brothers said the team is committed to keeping defense as strong as last year, when the Colonials allowed .086 goals per game. Brothers was named to the Preseason All-Conference First Team and anchored the backline last year.
The question left unanswered on the back end of the field is in the net: Without Ulrick, the starting goalie position is less clear this season.
Redshirt freshman Miranda Horn earned the start against American, making two saves and allowing no goals for the first 72 minutes before freshman Monica Thom played 18 minutes and allowed the one Eagles goal. Saint John’s transfer Ellen Conway finished the last 10 minutes of overtime.
Still, Brothers said the team is looking at the field as a whole, focusing on teamwork and communication in all areas.
“The emphasis is working together in the combinations on offense and in defense,” Brothers said. “Soccer is a team sport. It’s not for individuals. It’s about working together.”
To create that team chemistry, the returning players will need to bring this year’s freshman class into the fold. Besides Horn, Thom and Conway, defenders Danielle Snajder and Ingrid DiClemente, midfielder Lida Koskina, defender-midfielder Annika Johnson and forward Brittany Cooper have also joined the team.
Head coach Sarah Barnes said members of the freshmen class have the potential to challenge returners for playing time.
“I think people are going to have to come out day in and day out and really compete and go after it,” Barnes said. “If they take their foot off the gas, there will be another player waiting to take their spot.”
Barnes added that she is confident older players on the team will help the rookies adapt to college athletics. This year’s upperclassmen will need to fill in for Wallis and Ulrik, who led the team both in the huddle and off the field.
“Once school starts and classes begin, I think it’s really going to be about trying to help [freshmen] players reach their potential by providing guidance and being good examples and encouraging them,” Barnes said.
The Colonials will need to reach their potential quickly: The non-conference schedule includes matches against Liberty on Sept. 7 and Georgetown on Sept. 14. Both teams made it to the NCAA Championship last year. Those games should help GW gear up for tough conference matches against teams like La Salle, another NCAA team from last year, on Oct. 3 and perennial power Dayton on Oct. 31.
The season officially begins Friday at 5 p.m. in a home match against Mount Saint Mary’s.
Josh Solomon contributed reporting.