As the University of Southern California celebrated on the far side of Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., Head Coach Dave Nolan spoke to his exhausted, teary-eyed team in the postgame huddle last Friday.
“The last thing I told them was just look around, look at your surroundings: if we’re going to finish, we’re going to finish here. There are worse places to finish,” Nolan said following the disappointing 1-0 loss in the semifinal stage. “Credit to my kids. They’ve been a joy all year. I’m so proud to coach them.”
The most successful season in Georgetown women’s soccer history came to a close Friday night in front of 4,293 fans, as the No. 2 Hoyas (20-3-3, 6-1-2 Big East) fell to the No. 7 Trojans (19-4-2, 8-2-1 Pac-12).
The game’s lone goal, a turn in the box and finish to the lower-left corner by USC senior forward Katie Johnson, ended a season in which Georgetown won its first Big East championship in program history and reached its first College Cup, outscoring its opponents 7-0 leading up to its final game.
Georgetown’s first-half control of possession and chance creation ceded to a second half in which the opportunities simply dried up; the Hoyas had conceded just once in the previous month and had not failed to score a goal since Oct. 6 at St. John’s (11-4-5, 5-2-2 Big East). The Hoyas were not too familiar with playing from behind.
“The difference was possibly the shape we play in and the shape they play in,” Nolan said. “In the first half we gave them a lot of problems with our midfield three.”
A halftime adjustment from USC congested the middle of the field and prevented Georgetown from sustaining much of an offensive rhythm.
Graduate student defender Marina Paul, who had perhaps Georgetown’s best chance in the 28th minute sending a diving header just wide, considered the Hoyas’ defensive performance a strong one.
“Variability makes it more difficult on the defense,” Paul said. “But they also have very different spacing that we haven’t really seen before, and they were able to spread their offense pretty wide. Just being able to manage that was more difficult. But even so, defensively I think we handled them pretty well except for a couple of moments that they had.”
The Hoyas came to the College Cup prepared to compete and were certainly not just happy to be there, but, in reflection, the season appears as a major step forward for the program on the whole.
Georgetown had only advanced past the second round of the tournament once before, and the programs’ first Big East championship marked the major strides made by this team.
“This has been a really exciting season for us, just coming in knowing that we could do something big and then actually doing it,” graduate student forward Crystal Thomas said. “Like we said before, it’s come down to the whole team being on the same page. It was all about all 28 of us. We had some really great leadership and we were able to win some really big games.”
The team set program records for wins with 22, goals scored with 61 and shutouts with 17.
Mid-September saw the beginning of a special season, when the Hoyas followed a stunning overtime winner from Rachel Corboz over then-No. 12 Rutgers with a comeback 3-2 upset of then-No. 3 Virginia. The two wins came before a 1-0 double overtime victory over then-No. 1 West Virginia, handing the Mountaineers their only loss of the season at the time.
Offensively, the Hoyas posed a dynamic threat from all over the pitch, finishing second in the country in goals scored.
Senior forward Grace Damaska led the team with fourteen goals, the second-most in a single season in Georgetown history, and provided constant pace on the left wing, earning a spot on the All-Big East First Team.
Another bright side of the season was the breakout performance of redshirt sophomore forward Amanda Carolan. Carolan, who provided an expert finishing touch in front of the goal, was named Big East Freshman of the Year, notching ten goals for the season.
Much of the Hoyas’ success stemmed from their defensive midfield and ability to quickly turn defensive stops into offensive opportunities.
The defense — which outside of an eight-minute second-half hiccup against Stanford and a poor first half against DePaul conceded just eight goals all season — developed together well as the season progressed.
Sophomore goalkeeper Arielle Schechtman, in her first season with the team after transferring from UCLA, earned the second-most shutouts in the country and the most in Georgetown history, controlling her box aerially with height and a willingness to claim crosses.
Elizabeth Wenger, who was selected to the All-Big East Second Team, and junior defender Drew Topor along with graduate student Corey Delaney, were mainstays on the back line.They all provided major contributions to the streak of 748 minutes early in the season during which the Hoyas did not concede a goal.
Three-time captain Paul regained her starting position after an early injury sidelined freshman Sarah Trissel. Paul earned National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American honors in her return from multiple knee injuries, and scored one goal on a volley from outside the box straight off a corner. More than the victories or the individual honors, though, Nolan has spoken extensively all season about the girls themselves, a team full of personality fueling the extraordinary run to the top.
“I told them they played really well tonight, particularly in the first half,” Nolan said on Friday. “I just told them I was really proud of them, proud of them for tonight, and showed people who watched what a good soccer program Georgetown is. I told them they were a credit to themselves for all the hard work they put in this year, from the first day of preseason right through here.”
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