Through the first nine games of the season, sophomore forward MacKenzie Cowley has paced the women’s soccer team in scoring and already surpassed her goal total from her freshman season.
Cowley is setting a new tone for a GW team that has struggled to score in the past. While the Colonials have already amassed 18 goals this season with eight regular-season games to play, they scored just 20 goals all of last season, 17 goals in 2012 and 15 goals in 2011.
Cowley earned a starting spot after coming off the bench in the first three games this year. Of the 18 goals GW has scored, Cowley can take credit for five of them, along with an assist. She also leads the team with 14 shots on goal and a .583 shots on goal percentage, both tops among players with at least five attempts on goal.
“The thing about Kenz is she’s a great goal scorer,” head coach Sarah Barnes said. “She has a nose for it. She has a knack for scoring goals.”
Cowley has made a habit of scoring when it counts: She’s netted what would be the game-winning goal in three of the four games that she has scored in this season.
Cowley scored her first goal of the year as a sub in the team’s 6-0 win over Mount St. Mary’s in GW’s Aug. 22 season opener. She made the starting 11 against Liberty on Sept. 7, tallying the lone goal in a 1-0 Colonials victory.
She then provided two more goals in a 3-1 win over East Tennessee State on Sept. 12 to raise her team-high total to four.
Last weekend, Cowley notched a game winner over George Mason in the 59th minute when she deflected a shot attempt by senior Elizabeth Casey. Cowley’s goal lifted the Colonials to a 2-1 win over the Patriots, their first win in 22 meetings with George Mason.
Barnes said her starting forward has gained more confidence since her freshman season, and her level-headed energy is infectious among teammates.
“I think Kenz leads in a different way,” Barnes said. “She’s never uptight or anxious, which isn’t to say she doesn’t get nervous, she’s human, you know. She just has an easygoing, positive attitude that makes a difference on the team.”
A native of Sea Girt, N.J., Cowley came to GW after a glowing high school career at Red Bank Catholic High School. Cowley scored 24 goals and tallied six assists as a junior in 2011, according to tristate-area high school sports network MSG Varsity, and led the Shore Conference in scoring twice during her career.
Barnes said Cowley scored a goal every time she went to scout the high school standout as a recruit.
“At least one goal,” Barnes said. “I knew she had the ability.”
Cowley, who said she models her game after U.S. national player Alex Morgan, possesses both speed and strong play-making instincts. Those qualities appeared in spurts during her freshman campaign.
She scored three goals last season, with one goal serving as the game winner against American and another against No. 13 Georgetown. Her lone assist of last season became a game winner against Old Dominion.
Like her idol Morgan, who has said that she would play volleyball or softball if she did not play soccer, Cowley also was a multi-sport athlete growing up. She played lacrosse and, after tiring of soccer, almost passed up her cleats for a lacrosse stick in college.
“It was a tough choice,” Cowley said. “It came down to the point where my mom just sat down with me to make the decision and said, ‘Say whatever comes to mind,’ and I ended up sticking with soccer.”
With a mom who played soccer at Colgate University, Cowley said “soccer genes ran in the family.”
Cowley has earned more attention as the team’s go-to on offense, but she said she wants to be known more for her respect for referees and opponents, sportsmanship and enthusiasm as a teammate.
“I just try to be nice to people,” Cowley said. “I think I’m outgoing, and I’m almost always smiling or laughing. I try to maintain a positive attitude in general.”
Cowley and the Colonials will try to maintain their firepower in Atlantic 10 play, beginning with their conference opener Friday at La Salle and a matchup with Fordham on Sunday.
Scott Nover contributed reporting.