Atlantic 10 preview: women’s soccer sets sights on NCAA berth

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

Junior forward MacKenzie Cowley has scored six goals in nine shots on target so far this season. The Colonials open A-10 play at home on Thursday.

The women’s soccer team begins conference play Thursday with momentum after accumulating nine points from its last three games, offsetting what looked to be a troubling start to the 2015 campaign.

The Colonials, who now sit at fifth in the Atlantic 10 at 5‒4‒0, will welcome a strong Saint Joseph’s (6‒3‒0) side to Mount Vernon for what is sure to be an intense matchup. Although the Hawks have collected more points in non-conference play, they will find it tough to best a GW side that hasn’t conceded a goal in three games.

“I don’t think anyone has changed their thought process or has lowered expectations at all. The goal is still to win conference, win the A-10 tournament, grab an NCAA berth and then make a run in the NCAAs,” head coach Sarah Barnes said.

Fordham, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis, who make up the top three of the conference standings, will prove to be the toughest competition for GW if they are to secure a spot in the A-10 Championship. Luckily for the Colonials, who have only conceded one goal at home, all three of those matchups will be played here.

The Rams and the Billikens are two of the top squads, but couldn’t be more different. Fordham leads with an impenetrable defense that has allowed an A-10-best 0.78 goals per game. Saint Louis brings a relentless attack, taking nearly 20 shots per contest, and leads the league with 2.88 goals netted per game.

Saint Joseph’s plays a game closer to the Billikens than to the stingy Rams, scoring 2.25 goals per game.

Coming off three wins, the Colonials will certainly feel confident going into conference play. With senior Brooke Bean out for the season, the Colonials had trouble defensively at the start, conceding 12 goals in their first six games. This defensive uncertainty most likely came from changes to the back line, such as senior Brooke Stoller’s transition from midfield to replace Bean at center-back, as well as Kate Elson’s transition to fullback. But after recording three consecutive clean sheets, it appears that GW’s back line has finally found some consistency.

GW has given up 1.33 goals per game, the fifth-least in the A-10, but that number is skewed slightly by lopsided losses to Cal State Fullerton and Georgetown. Colonial goalkeepers have posted five shutouts, tied with Fordham for the most in the conference. They are averaging 3.78 saves per game, indicative of the low number of chances the defense is giving opponents.

If the Colonials have anything to be confident about, it’s their goal-scoring ability lately. The front line has found the back of the net in every game besides a narrow defeat to Drexel in early September, and has scored 14 goals along the way, including seven in the last three games. Junior forward MacKenzie Cowley leads the Colonials goal-scoring efforts with six goals from nine shots on target. Freshman forward Sofia Pavon has also contributed two goals over the course of the campaign, both coming in GW’s final non-conference matchup at UMBC, and will play a crucial role in helping levy Cowley’s goal-scoring burden.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements and we have a lot of players contributing. We’re excited,” Barnes said. “We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re ready and we’re excited to take that challenge on and have the opportunity to win an A-10 championship.”

Although Cowley serves an able converter for the Colonials, senior midfielder Kristi Abbate’s ability to play across midfield and bring creative attacking play will likely be the difference-maker in the tougher A-10 matchups. Abbate has yet to replicate her form from previous campaigns, recording just one goal and one assist in nine starts. But given the confidence from three consecutive wins, the midfield engine will likely begin to produce for the Colonials as a creative catalyst in A-10 play.

GW will have had a full week of rest when the Hawks come to town Thursday. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. on the Mount Vernon Campus.

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