After three years of coming up short, the Colonials are finally headed back to the Atlantic 10 Championships on Thursday for the first time during head coach Craig Jones’ tenure.
On the heels of a dramatic double-overtime win over Saint Louis Saturday in which junior midfielder Garrett Heine converted on a game-winning penalty kick, GW secured the A-10 regular season title for the first time in four years.
In mid-September, however, that didn’t seem likely. GW dropped five of its first seven games in 2015, battling injury and playing skilled, out-of-conference squads. Opponents doubled the Colonials’ goal total during that stretch (14–7), as the Colonials consistently struggled to convert offensively.
But a commanding, 4–1 victory over Robert Morris on Sept. 25 turned GW’s season around. Heine had five points in that match and quickly emerged as the star finisher the Colonials needed, recording a team-high nine goals and four assists on the season thus far.
From there, with more contributions on the attack from sophomores Christian Lawal and Oliver Curry and senior midfielder Eddie Painter, plus stellar goaltending from senior goalkeeper Jack Lopez, GW went on a 7–2 run, with six crucial wins coming in A-10 play.
Surprising conference coaches who picked the Colonials to finish 10th in the league in this year’s preseason poll, GW enters the A-10 Championships as the No. 1 seed. Heading into Thursday’s match-up behind three consecutive wins, the team hopes they can continue to defy the odds.
No. 8 VCU (5‒9‒4, 3‒2‒3 A-10)
Despite the seeding disparity, this match between two DMV-area rivals will be a close contest. The two sides met on Oct. 24 in a defensive-minded battle that ended in a 1–0, overtime shutout victory for the Colonials. The win was GW’s first over VCU in program history.
The Colonials and Rams matched each other with 14 shots each in that game and will need the same kind of production Thursday. GW does have the edge offensively on paper, averaging 1.29 goals per game to VCU’s 1.00.
If Lopez and the defense can channel the confidence gained from a league-leading seven regular season shutouts and the front line can find a go-ahead, this first-round contest should be GW’s for the taking.
No. 4 Fordham (6‒7‒4, 4‒3‒1 A-10) or No. 5 Massachusetts (5‒12‒1, 4‒3‒1 A-10)
GW did not meet Fordham during the regular season, so this match could go either way.
The Rams sit in the middle of the pack in virtually every category, but on paper, the Colonials seem have the edge on both sides of the ball. Their 1.28 goals against average and 1.06 goals per game average are eighth and seventh best in the A-10, respectively.
But the Colonials shouldn’t look past Fordham too easily. Despite a blowout, 5‒1 loss to George Mason on Oct. 25, the Rams were able to play No. 2 seeded Dayton to a 1–1, double overtime draw just a few days later.
The Colonials met the Minutemen on Oct. 31 and came away with a commanding 2–0 victory, with second-half goals from both Heine and Curry.
Massachusetts enters the tournament with just the 12th-best offensive output, averaging only 0.78 goals per game, and also allows an average of 1.94 goals per game, 11th-best in the conference.
The Minutemen would be the preferred second-round match-up, but GW must create quality chances, like when it outshot Massachusetts 10–8 last month, in order to secure a spot in the final.
No. 2 Dayton (10‒5‒3, 5‒1‒2 A-10)
The last time GW reached the championship match was in 2011, and if it can find a way this season, they will most likely square off against Dayton. The Flyers were the only team in the conference to record just a single loss in 2015 and will have an easy road to the final as the second seed.
Dayton has dominated the conference offensively all year. The Flyers are far and away the A-10 leader in goals scored, recording 46 on the season compared to 24 by Rhode Island, the second best offense in the league, and beat Saint Joseph’s colossal seven goals to one on Oct. 28.
The match will pit Dayton’s highly skilled offense against a formidable GW backline that has allowed only four goals in A-10 play this season, in front of Lopez who boasts a 0.821 save percentage, good for third-best in the conference.
Dayton may even be considered the favorite in this one, but with an A-10 title and an opportunity for GW to reach the 2015 NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 on the line, anything could happen.