In a season of remarkable firsts for the Georgetown women’s soccer team, one moment stands out, etched in players’ memories: the final whistle on a sunny early November afternoon at Shaw Field, marking the end of a 2-0 victory over Marquette and the team’s first ever Big East Tournament championship.
“That was for sure our number one goal,” junior midfielder Rachel Corboz said. “It’s something that no other team has ever done, and it’s been our goal since my freshman year, and I’m sure even before that. To finally actually do it, and to hear that final whistle blow and everyone celebrating was really great.”
The Big East Championship victory preceded an unexpected and historic run to the program’s first Final Four, culminating in a trip to San Jose, Calif., where the Hoyas took their place among the sport’s other elite programs; Georgetown largely outplayed eventual national champions University of Southern California in the national semifinal, falling 1-0.
Head Coach Dave Nolan knew the season might be a special one after a win in September over a No. 12 Rutgers team that had reached the Final Four just a year prior.
“I thought we did it convincingly,” Nolan said of his team’s victory over Rutgers. “If any team were to win it, it would be us. Rachel scored a great goal … That was the first sign, and I was like, ‘Maybe we have something here.’”
Georgetown followed up the Rutgers win with a shocking comeback win over No. 3 Virginia, digging out of an early 2-0 hole; one week later, senior forward Grace Damaska scored the double overtime winner at No. 1 West Virginia, cementing Georgetown’s position at the top of the rankings for the remainder of the season.
The Big East Tournament still loomed large on the horizon, as the team had seemed cursed in previous years, falling short not because of a lack of talent but because of late goals, untimely injuries and missed opportunities. However, after squeaking past DePaul in the semifinal, Georgetown took care of Marquette to claim their long-awaited trophy.
“The final whistle after beating Marquette in the Big East final was a great moment, because it was our first Big East Tournament win, and to do it at home in front of our home fans, I thought that was pretty special,” Nolan said.
Georgetown’s prolific attack featured Corboz, who led the team in assists with 16, as well as Damaska, sophomore forward Amanda Carolan, and graduate student forward Crystal Thomas, both of whom tallied double digits in goals. The Hoyas finished second in the country in goals scored.
In net, sophomore goalkeeper Arielle Schechtman controlled the air effectively, earning the second-most shutouts in the country and the most in Georgetown history.
Captain and graduate student midfielder Marina Paul anchored the defense in her return from injury, alongside junior defenders Elizabeth Wenger and Drew Topor and graduate student forward Corey Delaney; apart from an eight-minute spell against Stanford and a rough first half against DePaul, the back line conceded just eight goals all season.
“[Paul] learned and grew a lot as a player and as a person as the season went on,” Nolan said. “Coming back off her injury, she put so much pressure on herself to come back at the top of her game, and it was always going to take time. But to come back from two ACLs was pretty inspiring to the kids on our team, and she led from the front.”
Nolan contested that in addition to the experience of the junior- and senior-laden squad, the commitment from players lower on the depth chart propelled the team’s success.
“It was just a sense that everybody was bought in,” Nolan said. “We’ve had talented teams in the past, and, to some extent, you could argue we’ve had more talented teams in the past, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a team that was as 100% bought into the group and the group dynamic.”
Junior midfielder Chloe Knott and junior defender Taylor Pak fueled that commitment in stopping attacks in defensive midfield and translating defense into quick offense, playing balls for Damaska and sophomore forward Caitlin Farrell to run onto.
As much as the team was on the same page on the field, the players certainly came together off the field as well.
“My three years here, this was definitely the closest team I’ve been on,” Corboz said. “Our relationships off the field really translated to on the field and allowed us to play good soccer and get those wins.”
Nolan also said the group dynamic of the team seemed different this year.
“It’s a pretty laid-back group,” Nolan said. “In the past we’ve always had dominant personalities, where the team’s personality was shaped by one player … This group enjoyed each other’s company, and we enjoyed their company, and I definitely feel that was a big reason for our success.”
The 2016 season proved to be a breakthrough for Georgetown women’s soccer, and now the team looks to ensure the program remains in the upper echelon of teams in the sport.
“After making the Final Four this year, everyone knows and sees that Georgetown women’s soccer isn’t just a little school anymore,” Corboz said. “We’re capable of playing against the best teams and getting good results, and making it this far this past season is definitely motivating us for next season.”
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