Fresh off a pair of impressive home performances, the Georgetown women’s soccer team (3-1) travels for its first road game of the season Friday night to take on No. 12 Rutgers (3-1-0) in Piscataway, NJ.
With 4-0 and 4-1 victories over Delaware (0-4) and Colorado College (2-2), respectively, the Hoyas have started to earn national attention; senior forward Grace Damaska’s six goals, including five in her last two games, ranks her tied for second in the nation, while junior midfielder Rachel Corboz’s five assists have her joint-first.
Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Arielle Schectman has recorded three shutouts in her first four games with the help from junior defender Elizabeth Wenger and freshman defender Sarah Trissel.
Wenger earned the first Big East Defensive Player of the Week award by an outfield Georgetown player since Mary Kroening in November 2013, and Damaska took home the Offensive Player of the Week.
Head Coach Dave Nolan has been impressed so far with Georgetown’s sustained possession as well as the midfield’s desire to win the ball back immediately once it has been turned over. Corboz and central midfielder juniors Taylor Pak and Chloe Knott have stood out in that respect.
“If you have the ball, and you have the other team under pressure, your defense doesn’t get tested,” Nolan said. “And I think we’ve done a good job in all the games of owning possession … when the ball turns over, we have some midfielders in particular who work really hard to try to win the ball back.”
Though Rutgers sits high in the rankings and has already won at then-No. 10 UConn (3-1), the team has undergone massive changes since last season, graduating eight seniors. Additionally, the first-choice keeper is currently away from the team for U-20 national team duty.
“Rutgers had a year last year similar to our men’s program, in that all of their better players were their seniors,” Nolan said. “And they had a very good defensive mindset … the game against UConn was an interesting game. It was 2-0, Rutgers scored off two corner kicks. But if you were to look at possession and shots, UConn certainly owned the statistical side of it.”
The Hoyas are also aware of Rutgers’ aerial prowess, as several of their goals have resulted from long throws or other set pieces.
The atmosphere in Piscataway has the potential to be raucous, with the Scarlet Knights highly primed for an evening game against a high-profile opponent, but Wenger did not seem concerned.
“Typically, and this is how I’ve been all through youth and high school in games so far, I’m very good at tuning out anything besides what’s going on right in the moment,” Wenger said. “But one time, at Virginia Tech, with their student section, that was the one time I really heard the student section. And that’s always fun to hear them heckling you; it motivates you to put the ball back down the other team’s throat.”
Not only did Wenger earn conference accolades for her defensive success last weekend, she also contributed an assist on Damaska’s fifth goal of the two games, lofting a semi-intentional inch-perfect ball from near the midfield line onto Damaska’s head to bury any remaining Tiger hopes.
Beside Wenger, Trissel has filled in admirably at center back in her first season on the Hilltop, earning praise from all sides.
“Sarah reminds me so much of Alexa St. Martin, who played here a couple of years ago,” Nolan said. “She’s similar in stature, she’s got the same grittiness and toughness, but more than anything she’s very assured on the field. She doesn’t panic, she doesn’t get flustered. She tends to read situations very well and ultimately usually makes the right decision … I’m not worried about inexperience.”
Wenger, too, admired the ability to jump into the Hoyas’ back four, alongside junior defender Drew Topor and graduate student Corey Delaney, and find such immediate success.
“I’m really excited to have her next to me; she’s such a solid player,” Wenger said. “She has taken stepping in like a pro — I’m pretty sure she’s done better than I have. She’s never seemed nervous and she’s really good communicating with me. She steps well.”
With the exception of the Stanford match, the defense has had success in quelling opposition attacks before they ever really begin. Colorado College’s lone goal came from its only threatening forward move.
Ultimately, however, Wenger places team results above her individual plaudits.
“[A]ccolades are nice,” Wenger said. “But it’s early in the season and we have a lot more games to play. I’m more interested in what’s coming for us than for what they’re giving me now.”
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