Women’s soccer’s young squad off to hot start under first-year Demko

Media Credit: Ethan Stoler | Contributing Photo Editor

Senior midfielder Mia Barreda fends off Stetson attackers during a game Sunday at Mount Vernon field.

It had been smooth sailing for women’s soccer from the first touch until midway through the second half against Stetson Sunday.

But when the Hatters sent their first and only goal of the day into the back of the net in the 59th minute, the Colonials appeared frazzled – leading them to be charged with an offsides penalty. Through their first three games of the season, the Colonials had only seen one other goal scored against them.

The squad would go on to eventually down Stetson 4–1, keeping its record a perfect 4-0 on the season. The disorient in a moment of adversity shows that the Colonials, in their first year with head coach Michelle Demko, are not immune to growing pains.

Demko said that poise through difficult circumstances can only be attained through experience.

“In terms of getting minutes under our belt and finding a rhythm, we have opportunities every time we train and every time we play,” she said.

GW’s 29-woman roster includes 19 underclassmen. Three sophomores and two freshmen have consistently made up the starting 11, and two additional freshmen have seen significant time on the field so far this season. The team’s goalkeeper, senior Anna Tapen, is in the starting lineup for the first time in her career.

In situations when younger members of the team are struggling on the field, Demko said she is confident in senior leadership to improve the team’s mentality.

“I think the players have recognition of when it’s good and when they need to sharpen up,” she said. “I think they felt that moment.”

To open the season and Demko’s tenure at the helm of the program, GW has logged four straight wins against Pacific, Liberty, Delaware and Stetson. At this point last season, they were 1-2-1.

Demko attributed her team’s success to her players’ willingness to invest in both their own fitness and her strategy for the program.

“We put them in situations in training that really challenge their tempo, challenge the speed of play in tight places trying to escape pressure,” Demko said. “In terms of them taking those sessions and then having application on the field, that’s all them.”

Despite the team’s victories thus far, an incoming first-year staff and young starting lineup present challenges for the Colonials.

Freshman defender Hannah Zaluski – who along with midfielder Maria Pareja is one of the team’s two starting rookies – said the biggest adjustment for her has been learning to play alongside bigger, more physical opponents. She said although the lineup is young, the upperclassmen have been supportive.

“Since some of us are playing, they’ve been very open to it and wanting to get better themselves,” she said.

Demko said one advantage of young personnel is that many players are starting from a “clean slate” and are eager to prove themselves on the field. She said as they move forward, the youth of her roster leaves a lot of room for development.

“I think in October I will look back and most likely we will be a different team,” she said. “We will be sharper, our speed of play will be faster and we’ll be a little bit more poised.”

The team dynamic has also shifted for veteran players, with more established players fulfilling a different role for the team than they had in previous seasons.

In all of the 2017-18 season, sophomore midfielder Natalie Silberman scored one goal. In Sunday’s game alone, she scored two. With four goals scored this season, sophomore midfielder Alexis Williams has already matched her total from last season.

Senior forward Sofia Pavon, who was the team’s leading scorer last year, leads the team in assists this season with three – one more than her total last year.

As a senior leader on the team, Pavon said her goal this season is to contribute in whatever way possible to the team and to help make the transition easier for the underclassmen.

“Just go out and play, just do your thing and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I will try to help in whatever way possible and give them tips of whatever they can change,” she said.

Soon after the offsides call in Sunday’s game, the Colonials returned to the steady, consistent style of play that has been characteristic of their year so far. They would go on to score two more goals to seal the victory.

Demko said she is confident that as the season continues on and the opponents become tougher, her young squad will gain the experience they need to develop.

“In terms of getting minutes under our belt and finding a rhythm, we have opportunities every time we train and every time we play,” she said.

The Colonials will conclude their three-game homestand Thursday against Georgetown. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.



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