Despite a condensed men’s soccer slate, sophomore goalkeeper Justin Grady produced a breakout performance this season, ushering his team to their first Atlantic 10 Championship game since 2011.
The Colonials (5-3-2, 3-1-2 A-10) overcame an 11th place preseason ranking, dropping just one loss in conference play in overtime to advance out of the central pod into the A-10 playoffs. Grady’s ability to make key saves down the stretch has largely contributed to GW’s success this season.
Grady started all 10 games this season and put up a 0.854 save percentage and a 0.65 goals against average despite an unusual season amidst the pandemic. He also tied a career high six saves against Dayton to secure a 1–0 victory and guide the Colonials to the title game against Fordham.
“I said from the beginning it was always just going to be a weird way to kind of get to the championship,” Grady said. “But I think once we were there, we didn’t really shy away from the moment.”
The Colonials ultimately fell short in a 2–0 defeat to the Rams. The squad felt the absence of two key players in senior forward Oscar Haynes Brown and freshman defender Aaron Kronenberg, who were injured in the win over the Flyers.
Grady kept the Colonials in the game despite trailing by a goal early in the first half. In the 29th minute, graduate student defender Matt Sloan fired a shot toward the top left corner of the net off a set piece attempt. The ball took a deflection off the back of a GW defender, forcing Grady to make an acrobatic save to touch the ball over the crossbar.
Though GW stumbled in the final, Grady’s contribution to the Colonials’ standout season did not go unnoticed. The second-year netminder racked up various honors, earning a spot on the All-Conference Second Team and the All-Championship Team. He also ranked 12th in save percentage nationally while tying the conference lead with five shutouts.
Although Grady said he was excited to receive individual honors, he believes team success is more important at the end of the day.
“I’ll always be grateful for that kind of thing,” Grady said. “But at the same time you kind of smile about it, you’re happy, and then you tuck it away and get back to work.”
He said a lot of his success can be attributed to the strength of his defensive back line and the chemistry they developed among themselves upon rebuilding the roster after losing a combined nine seniors and graduate students.
Sophomore Ryan Cedeno returned to the lineup this time in a starting role, and he was joined by newcomers Kronenberg and graduate student Hrólfur Sveinsson at center back and sophomore midfielder Elias Norris stepping in at left back in the absence of senior defender Joshua Yurasits. The newly formed back four conceded just seven goals all season.
After starting just seven games in the 2019 season in which the Colonials had a 3-5 record in conference and a 5-11-1 record overall, Grady emerged as the full-time starter this season with the graduation of former goalkeeper Noah Lubin.
“Going home over the summer I had a lot to work on, I knew what I needed to do,” Grady said. “So I would work on those things and it translated onto the field this year. Not only physical and athletic ability, but being able to organize the team from the back and be a leader on this team.”
Head coach Craig Jones said Grady has progressed steadily since joining the squad in 2019, becoming more confident coming off his line and distributing the ball from the back.
“We knew we had a good keeper coming in, we just didn’t know how good he could be,” Jones said.
Jones said Grady’s free kick save against Fordham was “something special” and is a testament to his work ethic and potential. Grady’s teammates also know they can rely on him to make saves when called upon.
“I think it’s really reassuring knowing that even if you have as strong of a backline as we had, even if there is a mistake, or if there’s a counter attack where we might not be as organized, you know that you have Justin back there in goal where he can make those big time saves, especially in a big time moments,” Cedeno said.
Grady said the “future is bright” for the team. With much of the team coming back after spring student-athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility, he believes the team can make a run back to the A-10 title game and come up with the win.
“We did well this year, we went far, we were just short of the goal that we wanted,” Grady said. “But we can take things from that game and several of the other games this year and learn from it, fortify the team and take whatever we need to make the same run next year and actually finish it by winning the championship.”
Roman Bobek contributed reporting.