After dropping all seven games in a 2020 season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, lacrosse is off to its best start in three seasons.
The Colonials (4-4, 1-2 A-10) have won half of their eight games this season. Head coach Jennifer Ulehla said the team is focused on learning her offensive and defensive systems and growing to match her heightened expectations.
“This team is just starting to understand the system that we’re trying to instill,” Ulehla said. “We’re building a different culture, and they’re learning different ways to do things, and the expectations are higher. And the discipline that we expect is something they’re not as used to, so they’re learning that they have a lot more in them.”
The squad is scoring more often this season, netting 91 goals through eight games – 17 more than the team’s average through eight games the last four years the team played eight games.
After losing eight seniors – including leading scorer midfielder Katie Quinn – Ulehla said the squad is playing a more team-oriented game, which allows for more players to fire shots between the pipes. GW has shared the wealth this season, with 15 different players recording at least one goal. Through seven games last season, just 11 players found the back of the net.
“If you look at some of the individual stats, we have a lot more people scoring, so it is more of an offense – a unit,” Ulehla said. “And we’re doing a lot more assisting, a lot of different people are scoring and we’re able to get more people involved, which obviously makes it a lot easier when you’re playing against really great defenses.”
Senior attacker Ioanna Mantzouratos is leading the charge on offense, shooting .500 percent with a team-leading 18 points. She was named A-10 Player of the Week March 16 after matching her career-high with five goals and throwing a career-high nine shots on frame against American.
Three other players have reached double-digit scoring this season, but the Colonials are not scoring more goals than they’re allowing. On the season, GW has scored 91 but allowed 120 goals against – the most goals allowed of any team in the conference.
Ulehla said the squad defends as a “shifting team unit,” and players can be interchanged for each other.
But she added that sophomore midfielder Kianah Watson, who has started all eight games, stands out among her teammates as an “excellent” defender who is usually tasked with guarding the competition’s best attacker.
Junior goalkeeper Megan Patrick has taken on the majority of the responsibility between the pipes, starting all eight games. She has nabbed 77 saves on 216 shots faced for a .445 save percentage.
“Our goalkeeper has really stepped up into a whole different level,” Ulehla said. “She’s making great saves when she really needs to.”
She added that the team’s draw control has also improved, which can help the team win closer games. The squad has racked up 111 draw controls – 17 more than the team’s 94 draw controls through eight games two seasons ago.
“If you can’t get the ball on the draw, you’re not going to win games,” Ulehla said.
She said the team has been able to improve with the help of new assistant coaches Hayley Sabol and LeighAnn Stauffer, who were former A-10 players at Saint Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure, respectively. The duo joined the program in January, about two months before the season kicked off.
She added that the team can still improve on reading the field to create space and making better on-field decisions, like reducing offside calls and staying disciplined. She added that most of the team’s remaining shortcomings are “fixable” and will come with more time and experience on the field.
“We talked a lot about that and just the discipline and using the 90-second clock when we had an opportunity to and when to actually really push it and push the fast break – just kind of recognizing the flow of the game,” she said.
The Colonials have five remaining matchups, all of which are against A-10 competition. GW has three conference games under its belt – a win over George Mason, a closely contested loss to Richmond and a decisive 18–7 beating from Davidson. GW will see all three teams one more time this season and VCU twice to round out its regular season.
“We take every single day as a blessing,” Ulehla said. “We’re just happy to be able to be out here and are so grateful to the athletic department for the chance to be able to do this.”
Lacrosse will hit the road to take on VCU Saturday at 1 p.m.
Roman Bobek contributed reporting.