Senior forward Grace Damaska’s goal in double overtime lifted the No. 18 Georgetown women’s soccer team (8-1) to another program-defining victory, a 1-0 result in Morgantown, W.Va., over No. 2 West Virginia (7-1-1). The game’s lone goal came off a counterattack in the 102nd minute, with Damaska running half the field while being hounded by two WVU defenders and finishing off the crossbar from a tight angle over the goalkeeper. The Mountaineers had previously gone 30 home matches without a loss, the 11th-longest streak in NCAA history.With the win, the Hoyas rounded off an impressive nonconference slate that also included wins over then-No. 12 Rutgers (6-1-1, 1-0-0 Big 10) and then-No. 3 Virginia (8-1-0, 1-0-0 ACC), which earned the team the No. 3 spot in RPI entering conference play.
The strategy entering the game against such a physically formidable opponent differed from the normal possession style Head Coach Dave Nolan prefers to play.
In order to minimize the number of crosses coming in from wide areas, an emphasis on defensive shape and spacing would prevent the Mountaineers from overloading the Hoyas with speed and numbers on the outside to get balls in.
“This particular West Virginia version is probably the most athletic team we’ve ever played,” Nolan said. “So we knew they were going to give us some trouble with what they do, and we had to try to minimize that. So we changed our game plan a little bit. We did the rope-and-dope, and tried to sit back and invite them on, and tried to pick off passes.”
The crosses West Virginia did manage to get into the box were almost always either claimed by sophomore goalkeeper Arielle Schechtman or headed clear by graduate student defender Marina Paul.
“They ran out of ideas of how to break us down,” Nolan said. “If they couldn’t have success out wide, they would start to get impatient, and they started shooting from everywhere. And they had a lot of shots from distance, none of which really troubled us.”
Though the team found itself slightly short on forwards, with sophomore forward Amanda Carolan picking up a knock in practice, freshman defenders Meaghan Nally and Vashti Williams stepped in and gave Damaska and sophomore forward Caitlin Farrell much-needed breaks. Graduate student forward Crystal Thomas started in Carolan’s place.
“It was exhausting,” Damaska said. “I don’t know how the defenders did what they did; they played amazing. But I really think the team we have this season, we work for each other no matter what the circumstances. And that’s been what’s differentiated us from our opponents. We haven’t stopped working.”
Once the Mountaineers started playing through the middle of the field, the Hoyas could pick passes off in the midfield and counterattack. Despite the team’s exhaustion, this strategy came to fruition when junior midfielder Rachel Corboz and junior defender Taylor Pak pressured the ball, allowing Pak to send it to Damaska for her game-winning run.
The attacking midfielders were all for the change in game plan for an athletic West Virginia side, and they were confident at halftime that they should continue sitting back and counterattacking in the second half, despite Mountaineer pressure.
“I was talking to Marina about it, and we mentioned to the rest of the team, that’s where we were with the Stanford game our opening weekend,” Damaska said. “It was 0-0 at half, and we had shortened the game against a team that had a lot of dangerous parts of their offense. So we made sure to keep that in mind, but we’d also got a few chances on them.”
The NCAA coaches’ poll slotted the Hoyas in at No. 18 last week, but the team is sure to jump several spots in today’s poll. TopDrawerSoccer.com now rates Georgetown at No. 10, and West Virginia dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 as they suffered their first home loss since August 2014 against Duke.
“West Virginia were selling themselves as the number one team in the country, so we just went up and beat the number one team in the country, which we haven’t done before,” Nolan said.
“Coming off a week where we had a tough game against a local rival, George Washington, in the superclasico, and then also coming off a tough game against Virginia last Saturday, this sustained run of form indicates to me that this could very well be our most successful team.”
Confident from a strong start to the season, the Hoyas now turn to conference play on Sunday with one goal in mind.
“We had set a goal for ourselves to be 6-3 coming out of nonconference, and the fact that we came out 8-1,” Damaska said. “It’s just a testament to how well this team is working together, how dedicated we are to reaching our goals for this season, and it makes us more excited to go into the Big East and go win a championship.”
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