By Liam O’Murchu
Women’s soccer is off to a strong start, with three wins and three draws heading into conference play on Thursday. This is the Colonials best start since 2016, when they started 6-0 before finishing 11-7-3 and losing in the Atlantic 10 championship game.
Despite welcoming 11 newcomers, the Colonials have been difficult to break down defensively, playing well as a unit. The team has conceded only two goals through six matches and experienced a stretch of 417 consecutive minutes where they didn’t concede a goal.
Defense was something the team struggled with last season, especially in the early portion of their schedule. In eight non-conference games to open the year, the Colonials conceded 21 goals. That amounts to 2.6 goals per game, while this year’s squad has mustered a mark of 0.3 goals conceded per game entering the conference portion of their schedule.
Much of this defensive prowess can be attributed to the continuity on the backline. The graduate student center back pairing of Cammie Dopke and Aza Keohan have played 504 of 540 possible minutes together thus far. Right back Margaret Rabbit has missed only 45 minutes, and most impressively, freshman left back Avril Silva has played all but the last 17 minutes of a 5-0 win over St. Peter’s.
Between the pipes there has been less continuity, but everyone who has seen the field has impressed. Freshman Grace Crowe and sophomore Ainsley Lumpe have split time, with each player logging 270 minutes so far. Crowe has five saves and is one of four D-I goalkeepers yet to concede a goal this season. Meanwhile, Lumpe has six saves and has conceded one goal, off a penalty kick against Howard.
Also worthy of a mention on the defensive front is redshirt sophomore midfielder Caitlin Cunningham. The Arlington, VA native and Marquette transfer has showcased her ability to cover ground and win tackles in 209 minutes of action through four games, although she hasn’t been in uniform for the team’s last two matches.
Offensively, graduate student forward Rachel Sorkenn has been the star of the show for the Colonials. Sorkenn, who missed all of last season with an injury, has scored five goals and registered an assist. With her goal against Howard on Sunday, Sorkenn moved into a tie for 11th place on the GW women’s soccer all-time scoring list with 18 goals.
Also looking to make an impact in the attack will be midfielders Isabelle Eskay and Sammy Neyman. Eskay, a senior, will look to deputize her booming shot and physical strength. Neyman, a graduate student, will be an asset in chance creation and ball progression with her strong passing ability.
Stepping into a bigger role this season will be junior midfielder Lauren Prentice and sophomore midfielder Alicia Window. With five starts this year, Prentice has surpassed her career number of starts this season alone. The crafty winger isn’t afraid to take defenders on and has been rewarded with a goal and two assists thus far. Window, a product of the Manchester City academy, is an attacker who can play multiple positions (she even slotted in at center back in the final minutes of the team’s 5-0 win over St. Peter’s.
Two more players to watch in the attack are midfielders Elizabeth Cruz and Aoi Kataoka. Cruz, a junior, came into the season with 10 starts and two goals under her belt. A versatile attacker who has seen action at winger, attacking midfielder and striker, Cruz’s speed and technical ability create chances for herself and her teammates alike.
Kataoka, a freshman, has displayed her technical ability, pressing ability and strength going into tackles through 330 minutes in the first six matches, in which she has gotten two starts. Kataoka scored her first collegiate goal against St. Peter’s and has been a sparkplug in the attack for the Buff & Blue. The Paramus, NJ native who dons the prestigious number 10 has been used by Demko at various positions but has seen the most action at attacking midfielder.
Along with 11 new players, the team has new faces on the touchline as well. This offseason assistants Kate Dylag and Zak Davis moved to Alma College and Middle Tennessee State, respectively. Demko brought in Bill Reno, who was most recently with the Connecticut men’s team and Alex Zaroyan, who spent the last two years with Tennessee Martin.
The team avoided a matchup with Saint Louis this season, who was picked first in the A-10 preseason coaches poll and ranked 12th in the most recent national United Soccer Coaches poll. The Billikens won the A-10 last season and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. So far this year they have taken down #8 Arkansas and #21 Xavier.
Additionally, the team gets to play A-10 newcomers Loyola Chicago at home this season rather than traveling to the Windy City. The Ramblers were tabbed third in the A-10 preseason poll and won the Missouri Valley Conference last year, making an NCAA tournament appearance. This year they’ve drawn with Big 10 opponents #24 Wisconsin and Illinois.
The Colonials have positioned themselves well for a strong showing in the Atlantic 10 this year, fortifying the defense and retooling their offensive depth. The real challenges will come when conference play begins, but the team has passed all their tests so far.
Photo credit: Greg Fiume