The women’s soccer team made a huge leap last season, winning its first postseason game since 1997 on the back of a stellar defense. But much of that back line graduated, so the Colonials set out in 2015 to recover from those losses without missing a beat in their rise in the Atlantic 10 ranks.
After blanking ECU in a 3–0 decision Sunday afternoon in the team’s home opener, the Colonials are 2–1 so far after splitting their first two games on the road in California, an overtime win against University of California, Riverside and a 4–1 loss to California State University, Fullerton. New roles and expectations have, so far, been taken in stride.
“I think that we, again, have a good amount of depth,” head coach Sarah Barnes said. “We have some young players who have been able to come in and make an impact and then a lot of returners who have really stepped up and taken a bigger role as they’ve risen. California was a great trip for us.”
GW’s 0.82 goals-against average led the league last season, but the team lost defenders Alex Brothers, Madison Davis and MacKenzie McIndoe, all of whom played more than 1,000 minutes and contributed to the team’s strength on defense. Brothers was one of two players, the other being Kristi Abbate who returns to highlight an experienced midline, to start every game.
Senior Brooke Bean was expected to anchor the defense this year, but went down with an injury during the Fullerton game in California. Barnes said that it “looks like it may be a knee injury” and that Bean will see a doctor this week to find out its severity. She did not play Sunday.
The loss of Bean would be a huge blow to the already-depleted defense and would challenge senior Emily Brown to lead the back line. But the new defensive line looked strong on Sunday. Redshirt sophomore Camille Roberts and sophomore Annika Johnson could be in line for breakout seasons, as both should get more minutes. Junior Kate Elson is also transitioning to the back line.
“I think this game is really indicative of what our back line is capable of,” Brown said after the game. “Losing Bean is really hard. She is one of our best leaders and that was heartbreaking but everyone here is really working together and putting in extra time.”
One consistent element could remain in redshirt sophomore goalie Miranda Horn. Horn was an all-rookie selection last season and started 18 of GW’s 19 games in goal, amassing an 0.85 goals against average and a 0.844 save percentage while posting seven shutouts. She was named to the preseason all-conference team earlier this month.
Despite Horn’s dominance, Ellen Conway is also a strong goaltender and should push Horn throughout the season. The two split time in the net in California, but Horn got the start Sunday and played 76 minutes.
“We’ve got two who are really good,” Barnes said. “It’s going to be very competitive, which I think is what we want and I think what they want. I think that they’re getting better because of the competition that each one is bringing to it.”
Despite Horn’s proven success, Barnes said that she’s focusing her evaluations on how each player performs in practice and in games. She said that Horn had responded well to being put into race for minutes that she didn’t face her first year.
“She’s really responded well,” Barnes said. “You know, I’m certain she doesn’t like that she’s not playing a full 90 like she did last year but she’s been really responsive to it and I think she’s been responsive in training as well.”
Up front, the Colonials retained most of their firepower. Senior Kyla Ridley and junior MacKenzie Cowley have learned to play together, and sophomore Brittany Cooper has a year under her belt now. Ridley, Cowley and Cooper combined for 11 goals, led by Cowley’s seven, and four assists last season. Freshman Charley Prevost is also expected to make an impact on offense, and already has an assist to her name.
Cowley has gotten off to a hot start. She’s up to three goals through three games, including two on Sunday.
Cowley’s scores showed off her finishing moves, running out wide to the right side and netting a through ball from Abbate for her first and leaping head a corner kick past ECU’s goalie for her second.
“I feel confident,” Cowley said. “Maybe because I’m older, I feel like when you’re an upperclassmen you’re like, ‘This is our year and we’ve got this.’ We have two really strong upperclasses. The junior and senior classes are so strong, mentally and physically, on the field so I feel really confident for this year, especially because our goal is to win the A-10s and get to the NCAAs, and we will work until we get there.”
With those goals in mind, it was a good sign that Cowley was easily able to take advantage of opportunities on Sunday. The Colonials took good shots last season, netting 0.122 of attempts and getting 0.479 of them on goal, but will have to bring offensive pressure consistently to improve. GW was outshot 236–213 last season and conceded 106 corner kicks while taking just 59.
The Colonials were picked to finish fourth in the A-10 Preseason Coaches Poll following Dayton, La Salle and VCU. GW hosts La Salle on Oct. 8 and visits VCU on Oct. 15. The team does not play Dayton during the regular season.
Even before conference play begins, the Colonials will be tested early. Last season, one of the first big signs of the team’s improvement was in a game against Georgetown, a team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Colonials lost in overtime on the road, but the defense showed that the team’s hot start was not to be dismissed by beating back 14 shots by the Hoyas in the first period alone. They’ll get a rematch on Sept. 10, again up the hill at Georgetown, which should be a similar litmus test.
The difference will be the expectations. The team’s rise has been rapid, but its talent means that title aspirations are on the line this year and a nice showing is no longer enough.