Although women’s soccer is just a little more than halfway through its season, the team has already experienced its fair share of peaks and valleys this fall.
The Colonials sailed through their first six games unbeaten. Their victories included a thrilling win over a then-ranked Arkansas squad. GW scored 11 goals in that span and conceded just two, with senior forward MacKenzie Cowley finding the back of the net in every contest.
Things changed, however, when the team was surprisingly shut out 2–0 at Liberty early last month.
A team that was once brimming with confidence suddenly hit a wall, losing its final three non-conference games, as well as taking a tough defeat at the hands of Saint Joseph’s (8–1–2, 1–0–1 A-10) to start conference play last week. Contrary to the team’s first six games, the Colonials were outscored a combined 7-1 in their next four.
But behind a staunch defensive effort and a flurry of goals, GW (7–4–0, 1–1–0 A-10) finally picked up a 3–0 victory over St. Bonaventure (7–4–0, 1–1–0 A-10) Sunday afternoon.
“We just need to do a better job of being focused [defensively] for the whole game,” senior defender Brooke Bean said Sunday. “Even in our non-conference losses and against Saint Joe’s, there were times where we did a good job of stepping up to close the gaps and fill space.”
Head coach Sarah Barnes has always maintained that the team’s defensive ability is the squad’s strength.
The 2016–17 backline has shown tremendous heart and depth. Bean and fellow seniors Kate Elson and Kiara Robertson have been flanked by sophomores Megan McCormick, Dani Frese and Mia Barreda, along with contributions from the likes of freshman Deena DeSilva and redshirt junior Ellie De Carlo.
“We talked as a unit a lot about communication,” Bean said. “Because as a defender you need help when you’re on the ball and forwards are coming at you, or you need to fill passing lanes, so having people talk and let you know what to do makes everything easier.”
Yet for all their depth and early-season proficiency, the numbers are stacked against the defensive unit. Opponents have recorded 57 shots on goal compared to GW’s 47, as well as 116 total shots to 97 for the Colonials.
The team has also played a demanding schedule lately. Before Sunday’s contest, GW was on the road for three of the previous four games and will travel to La Salle and Massachusetts this week.
“I think it’s going to be a long season,” Barnes said. “Two games per week doesn’t seem like much, but it’s demanding physically, and especially now playing three of our first four conference games on the road, we certainly will need that depth and fresh legs.”
For a team that had produced goals so explosively at the outset of the season, its inability to score in recent weeks may have been even more alarming than its defensive woes.
The Colonials managed just four shots on goal across their four straight losses and were held to zero in their 2–0 loss at Towson Sept. 18.
However, a three-goal outburst at home Sunday bodes well for a GW team trying to get the ball rolling in league play.
“I think it’s just about having confidence,” junior forward Brittany Cooper, who scored an absolute firecracker against the Bonnies, said. “If you’re off balance then you might look to pass it wide, but if you can shoot… shoot.”
Cooper and senior midfielder Lina Proska, who netted her first goal of the season Sunday, were terrific all game, providing wide balls for defenders and midfielders to chase and starting link-up plays in the box that would translate into quality chances.
The back four were tremendous against the Bonnies as well, totally stifling their attack.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Miranda Horn had to make just one save as St. Bonaventure struggled to maintain possession of the ball in the offensive half, constantly being swallowed by Colonial defenders.
“I think that [the team] is confident in their abilities,” Barnes said. “They know that we were just a couple of inches from being in a different situation entirely, and they understand that we can’t think we’re that much better than any given team [in the A-10].”