A string of multi-goal, non-conference losses to strong opponents in early September exposed defensive deficiencies on the women’s soccer team.
Multiple roster tweaks to GW’s back line created uncertainty for a team that finished with an Atlantic-10 best 0.82 goals against average just a season ago. But fast forward one month, and the same group seems to be back on pace for one of its stingiest years yet.
Since their most recent loss on Sept. 13 to Delaware, the Colonials (7‒4‒0, 2‒0 A-10) have won five in a row, and until Saint Bonaventure scored late in the second half yesterday, had not conceded a goal in more than 7.6 hours of gameplay.
“The good thing about non-conference is that you learn a lot of lessons and it’s why we play teams like Fullerton and Georgetown,” head coach Sarah Barnes said. “You’re trying to find out where good teams can expose you so you can fix those things. And I think we’ve adjusted several things and the kids have responded really well as a team, but also the back four and goalkeeper unit in particular.”
That unit – made up primarily of freshmen Mia Barreda and Dani Frese, junior Kate Elson and seniors Emily Brown and Brooke Stoller – was able to carry its momentum into the A-10. After three straight shutout victories to conclude out-of-conference play, the defense shut down Saint Joseph’s, the second-highest scoring offense in the league on Thursday.
Junior forward Mackenzie Cowley, who leads GW with seven goals and is tied for second in goals scored in the A-10, said the adversity the defense faced out of the gate was tough, but that the team’s ability to overcome it has been huge.
“Our defense has come such a long way from [Brooke] Bean being injured to now, what they can do is crazy,” Cowley said. “I’m just so proud of everyone back there.”
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Miranda Horn has also stood tall between the pipes throughout the entire recent stretch.
Horn has recorded 17 saves in GW’s last five games and came up big against the Hawks, stopping a season-high eight saves to keep the Colonials alive in a close contest. Horn also made four saves in GW’s 2-1, double-overtime, come-from-behind victory over the Bonnies yesterday afternoon.
“Miranda is just our savior. She’s a powerhouse back there. I can always count on her to be on everything. It gives me confidence when the ball’s back there that we’re not going to get scored on,” Cowley said.
And the stellar defensive effort as of late has clearly helped the GW offense win games.
Taking each of its last four games by two-goal margins or less, the shutout performances have helped take the pressure off of an offense that generates the least amount of shots, on average 7.7 per game, in the A-10.
GW also sits in the middle of the pack in assists and goals in the league, averaging 1.2 and 1.6 respectively. But despite the low offensive statistics and worries about the number of threats up top earlier in the season, neither Barnes or Cowley are worried about offensive efficiency. After all, the Colonials have scored nine times in their last four games.
“Our interchange of play has been a lot better and I actually feel like I have a lot more help up there than I had in the past. So I think we just have to keep playing for each other and it will lead to more goals,” Cowley said.
So whether it’s the momentum or safety net the defense provides, Horn’s rock-solid net-minding, or the ability to score in tight games with limited chances, women’s soccer is shaping up to be one of the league’s most formidable threats.