Updated: Oct. 29, 2014 at 7:28 p.m.
Something old, something new.
Women’s soccer is in the middle of a breakthrough year, mounting a 10-win campaign so far this season with two regular season games left to play.
The team has excelled to its first 10-win season in more than a decade (10-4-1) by maintaining the factors that worked in 2013, when the team went 7-6-5, while enhancing its depth and spreading scoring around the field.
In her third year as the Colonials’ head coach, Sarah Barnes has had new weapons at her disposal in the form of ripened older talent and an influx of skilled freshmen. At first, last season looked like a rebuilding year, but the team made a trip to the Atlantic 10 that proved a harbinger for future progress.
The critical change has been an improvement in offense to complement an already staunch defense that had helped the team make the tournament for the first time in 11 years.
“I think last year we were pretty good at keeping the ball out of the net. We had a lot of 0-0 ties,” Barnes said. “Really the difference is that we’re better at scoring goals, and it’s not just one person. We’ve had a lot of goals from a lot of different people.”
Led by sophomore goal-scoring talent MacKenzie Cowley, the Colonials have netted goals in all but four games, the team’s four losses on the season. The latest came Saturday in a 1-0 shutout at the hands of VCU. Even with those dry spells, GW has netted on average 1.53 goals per game using a varied attack.
“One of the benefits of using so many subs and having this depth in the team right now is that you have the ability to really give everything that you have,” junior midfielder Kristi Abbate said. “And you know that you have someone on the bench that can do the same work that you do.”
Cowley and Abbate have contributed the bulk of the scoring, with six and three goals, respectively.
Junior midfielder Nicole Belfonti has also netted three goals, some from distance, while junior forward Kyla Ridley and freshman forward Brittany Cooper have each slated two goals apiece. Senior forward Meg Murphy has served as a consistent threat on net, scoring two goals.
Barnes said beyond the uptick in offense, the array of weapons is also confusing to opposing teams.
“For an opponent to look at us, you’ve got Meg who plays a certain way, Kenz and Kyla who play a totally different way and Brittany who doesn’t play like any of those three,” Barnes said. “So that’s a hard team to scout. We’re dangerous because of that versatility.”
Barnes said in preparing for the postseason, the deep roster will mean the team can keep playing on fresh legs with starters getting more rest than they did last season.
By the time the team made the postseason last year, a series of overtime games and increased wear and tear from a season without heavy subbing made the A-10 tournament an uphill battle.
“I remember, end of season last year, in the A-10 tournament playing LaSalle, we were exhausted,” Barnes said. “We just played the same kids over and over every game. We played a lot of overtime games last year – it was like two extra games in the end.
The team has had its share of late game struggles this season, including a 3-0 loss to defending conference champion La Salle in the A-10 opener, in which the team allowed two second-half goals to the Billikens.
Still, Senior co-captain defender Alex Brothers said fatigue is not the source of the Colonials’ troubles late in games as much as their inability to remain calm down the stretch.
“I think we’re so excited to get that result,” Brothers said. “And sometimes we let that energy get us a little too hyped up and sometimes we need to take a breath and calm down and play simple balls.”
Barnes said the players’ late jitters have hindered their ability to keep possession, allowing games to slip away.
Whether the offense is clicking or working through a bump, the GW defense has stayed strong and leads the A-10 with a .73 goals allowed average – the only team with less than 1.00 goals allowed per game in the conference.
Brothers and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Miranda Horn, the two players with the most minutes of play, have been workhorses in blocking the net.
Horn, with seven shutouts on the year, has received two A-10 Rookie of the Week honors so far and has been integral to keeping the team undefeated at home with a 7-7 record and one home game left to play.
They’ve laid the foundation, and the resurgent offense has the team feeling confident about the postseason.
“The goal isn’t to get there. The goal is to win it,” Barnes said.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Colonials lost to Saint Louis in its season opener. GW’s season opener was against La Salle, which beat GW 3-0. We regret this error.