Women’s soccer is headed to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year under reigning Atlantic 10 Coach of Year Sarah Barnes.
But the program’s last three winning seasons – which followed an 11-year playoff drought – have all ended without hardware.
Thursday afternoon in Kingston, R.I., GW will embark on another shot at redemption in a game to earn its first-ever conference title and an automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Following a double-overtime loss to St. Louis Sunday in which redshirt junior keeper Miranda Horn had a career-high 13 saves, the Colonials (10–6–3, 4–3–3 A-10) clinched the No. 6 seed in the 2016 A-10 Championship.
To get there, GW went undefeated through its first six contests this fall, including an upset win over then-No. 17 Arkansas. The victory marked GW’s first win over a nationally-ranked team since 1996.
Senior forward MacKenzie Cowley dominated offensively in her final regular season campaign, finishing with a team-high 10 goals. The 2015 All-A-10 First Team starter also contributed four game-winners and was one of five Colonials to start all 19 games this season.
Horn has been one of the most valuable parts of GW’s defense across her 19 starts. Heading into Thursday, the netminder owns the A-10’s best goals against average (0.57) and save percentage (.884). And her nine shutouts – a career-high – are tied for most in the league.
Last year, the Colonials entered the tournament as the No.1 seed with a 10–0 conference record but lost in the first round of play.
“We got complacent and thought we were going to win the whole thing,” Cowley said. “I’m almost excited that we aren’t 10–0 this season because we have been able to learn from our mistakes and make sure that they don’t happen in the tournament again.”
After going 4–3–3 in conference play, the Colonials hope to overcome their bottom-half seeding and reach an A-10 Championship final for the first time since 1997.
Here’s what stands in their way:
Quarterfinal: No. 3 Duquesne (11–5–3, 7–2–1 A-10), Thursday Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.
Duquesne is one of three A-10 opponents GW did not face during the regular season.
The Colonials have proven their strengths defensively this season, but on paper the Dukes have the advantage on the attacking end. Their 1.74 goals per game average, compared to GW’s 1.16, is fourth-best in the A-10.
But the Colonials have proven all season that they have the ability to grind down tough competition.
On top of its upset over the Razorbacks in September, GW defeated 2015 NCAA Tournament qualifier LSU 3–1 in August.
If GW can do what it does best and keep the Dukes off the scoreboard, the team has a good chance of making it to the second round.
Semifinal: No. 2 Saint Louis (14–3–2, 7–1–2 A-10) or No. 7 Dayton (6–9–3, 4–4–2 A-10), Friday Nov. 4 at 5 p.m.
Despite the seeding differences between the Colonials and Billikens, GW was able to force double-overtime in its regular-season finale on the road against Saint Louis.
GW tied the game in the second half but was unable to come back in extra time. Horn made a career-high 13 saves, but the Colonials went on to drop the match 2–1 to the Billikens, who enter the tournament averaging an A-10 16 shots per game.
A match-up between the two teams would surely be a hard-fought battle, but GW must finish on their opportunities if they wish to get revenge from the heartbreaking end-of-season loss.
The Colonials did not meet seventh-place Dayton during the regular season but shouldn’t be fooled by the Flyers seeding.
Dayton has been led by junior forward Alexis Kiehl who averages 4.33 shots per game, 1.83 points per game, and 0.83 goals per game, all of which are second-best in the A-10’s individual statistical categories.
Like the Colonials, the Flyers experienced a number of close double-overtime games that ended in ties – which led to their lower overall seed in the tournament – so this match-up should not be overlooked.
Final: No. 1 Saint Joseph’s (16-1-2, 9-0-1 A-10), Sunday Nov. 6 at noon
If the Colonials make it to the title game, they’ll likely square off with A-10 powerhouse Saint Joseph’s who, like GW last fall, went undefeated in conference play.
The two teams met earlier this season on Sept. 29th in an offensive-minded battle that ended in a 2–1 win for the Hawks.
The Hawks pressured the visiting Colonials early in the game and scored two first half goals. Cowley responded with a late second half goal, but it was not enough to put the Colonials over the top.
The game could be closer than the Hawks expected if it comes down to this. The neutral venue would only help the Colonials complete the upset and capture their first A-10 crown since joining the league in 1993.