Behind improved offense, women’s soccer team’s defense excels

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

Sophomore forward MacKenzie Cowley makes her way up field in a match against Old Dominion University earlier this season. The Colonials won the contest in overtime for their second win of the season, and remain undefeated going into their fifth game. Cameron Lancaster | Photo Editor

One look at the statistics shows women’s soccer’s air-tight defense has propelled its perfect start to the 2014 season (4-0-0).

The team has shut out all four games, held opponents to fewer than 10 shots per game and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Miranda Horn has one of two perfect save percentages for a goalie in the Atlantic 10, with a conference Rookie of the Week award to go with it.

But head coach Sarah Barnes said the difference between last year’s 2-2 start to the season and this year’s success is not just the backline.

“We had made huge strides defensively last year, and I think we’re on track to continue that this year, but what’s probably helping us that’s different from last year is that we’re more effective in the attacking third. Some people have really stepped up,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the midfield has been able to open up and create more attacking opportunities, keeping the ball out of the back end.

Through four games, GW has tallied 53 shots and seven assists while averaging 2.75 goals per game. Eight different players have scored the team’s 11 goals so far this season, led by juniors Kristi Abbate and Kyla Ridley, sophomore forward MacKenzie Cowley and senior forward Meg Murphy with two goals apiece. Four games into last season, four players accounted for the team’s six goals.

“I think even last year we had a strong defensive team,” Barnes said. “I think there were five ties last year and most were probably 0-0 ties. We could keep them out, but we couldn’t score.”

The Colonials recorded three scoreless draws last season, two against A-10 competitors VCU and Duquesne. The third came against Mount St. Mary’s in non-conference play. In addition, GW dropped two games last season by a score of 1-0.

This year, the Colonials trounced the Mount 6-0 in GW’s season opener, a strong statement of new firepower at the top of the field.

Still, while the fireworks may come from offensive players, continuity from last season was not a given at the start of the year. The team had lost long-time goalie and team leader Nicole Ulrick, who boasted a 0.84 goals against average last season.

Horn had a full year to train with and watch her predecessor from the sidelines, but her seamless transition from the bench to protecting to the net was unexpected.

“It was difficult because I thought everyone that came in, they expect that they are going to play and get a lot of time and experience, but that’s just not how it worked out for me and I think I learned a lot from my experience,” Horn said. “I think that this year, I was just a lot more prepared.”

Barnes added that Brothers’ flexibility is an asset to the team: An MVP and co-captain, Brothers has played at right back, left back and now center back.

“She understands the game plan and she’s very focused,” Barnes said. “She comes off at half time and things aren’t that smooth – she’s asking questions and she’s identifying problems and coming up with solutions. So she’s been really great for us.”

Barnes also recognized Davis and central defensive midfielder Brooke Beane, who has been crucial in dropping back to provide support in front of the defense, as players who give her options in the backfield.

The team has already used that strength on the depth chart: After losing freshman defender Danielle Snajder for the season because of an ACL injury, the chemistry on the backline has stayed consistent.

“We have our defender family,” Murphy said. “It allows us to have a special type of communication.”

But Horn said she looks far beyond the four defenders in front of her for protection.

“I think this season we focused a lot more on team defending, and not just through the back four, but through the midfield and forwards, and everybody working together as a unit,” Horn said.

With a cohesive team committed to defending at any point on the field, and an attack that continues to capitalize on opportunities, the Colonials have molded a solid start to the season.

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