With six games left in regular season play, women’s soccer is securing its footing for the postseason – where it has historically failed to finish strong.
In the past two seasons, the Colonials (6–5–1, 2–2 A-10) have not won more than half of the games in their Atlantic 10 schedule, but with the back half of their conference schedule ahead of them, the team has been focusing on improving from game to game in order to play their “best soccer toward the end of October,” head coach Michelle Demko said.
“This is the most critical time of the season and we want to continue to be moving forward and pushing forward in the way that we know how to best do,” Demko said. “That is if individually we all do our role really well, then collectively we’re going to be a stronger unit.”
Under first-year head coach Demko, players said the team is taking a different approach to A-10 play than in previous seasons.
“In the past, I think we’ve kind of just been looking a little too forward into the tournament,” senior goalkeeper Anna Tapen said. “This year, we’re really just focusing on what we have next, what we have tomorrow and what we have this weekend.”
The Colonials will need to win three of their last six games to match the number of wins the program picked up last season.
But the team is lagging behind last season in offensive and defensive performance with four games under their belt. The Colonials have conceded three more goals than last season while netting two fewer than at the same time last season against the same opponents.
“We’ve had a little bit of a rocky start to conference and that’s obviously not what we wanted,” redshirt junior defender Megan McCormick said. “Right now, we’re just focusing on bouncing back and changing what we’ve done in previous games and getting better.”
Over four conference games, the Colonials have averaged 1.5 goals per game – higher than their overall average of 1.25 goals per game – but have also allowed opponents to average 1.75 goals per game, an increase from their overall 1.25 goals against average.
Demko said the team has lacked consistency on the pitch this season instead of playing at their “highest level” at all times.
“There have been games where you know we’re unbelievable competitors and we’re fighting hard and we’re in the hunt and then there are games where we tend to have lapses,” Demko said.
The team has had to adjust its offensive lineup without leading goal-scorer sophomore midfielder Alexis Williams, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Despite missing the last five games, Williams’ four goals and one assist through seven games this season continue to lead the Colonials.
Without Williams in the lineup, Demko said the team has adopted a “next player up” mentality on the offense.
GW’s scoring production has been spread out between five different Colonials so far in A-10 play. The team’s 15 goals scored so far is three off from last season’s 18 goals in 12 games. The defense has only tallied one fewer shutout compared to this time last season.
But when the team has gotten on the board, it has resulted in a win. The Colonials haven’t lost in a game they have scored in this season, so Demko said the team needs to take sharper shots on frame and be more selfish in front of the net to become more “goal dangerous” in the final third of the field.
“We get in areas where we have opportunities to shoot and either the shot is off frame or we decide to make an extra pass,” Demko said.
GW has made the A-10 postseason for five-straight years, but the team has not made it to the finals since 1997 and is 5–12 in postseason play overall.
“We’ve always had so much potential, so it’s definitely disappointing that we haven’t advanced to a final or haven’t won an A-10 Championship,” McCormick, a defender, said.
Demko said over the next few games, she and the rest of the coaching staff will have a better understanding of conference competition “from top to bottom,” but the team will need to be mentally tough in order to get through the rest of the conference and over the postseason hump.
“It just becomes about what we can do ourselves,” Demko said. “How we can impose our will on the game, and so that’s always going to be the goal for us.”
Belle Long contributed reporting.