The No. 22 Georgetown women’s soccer team begins its season this weekend against the Georgia Bulldogs in Blacksburg, Virginia, taking the field for its first competitive match since a penalty shootout loss to Wake Forest back on November 10. The Hoyas enter the season as favorites for a Big East threepeat, with four players featured in the Big East preseason team. Graduate student goalkeeper Arielle Schechtman and junior defender Meaghan Nally were named conference Preseason Goalkeeper and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, and senior forward Caitlin Farrell is on the watchlist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded in January to the best collegiate player of the year. Yet if you ask the players, none of that really matters.
“We can’t think about what we did last year, we can’t think about what we did two years ago, and because of that we need to create our own momentum and our own history despite these preseason accolades,” Schechtman said.
That history begins with a new midfield. Taylor Pak, Chloe Knott, and Rachel Corboz, the starters for the past three seasons, have all graduated, leaving a gaping hole in the center of the Hoyas’ lineup. Players that had previously played in five to 10 minute spurts, such as senior Meaghan Shaver, juniors Carson Nizialek and Sarah Trissel, and sophomore Grace Nguyen, now will play the majority of games, but the team is not relying on them to create the same type of star power the previous three produced, especially the magical Corboz.
“What we need from that midfield three is to at least hold their own with the better teams we play,” head coach Dave Nolan said. “If they do that, I think we’ve got the other pieces where we can score goals, and I still think we’re pretty good at the back.”
Outside of the midfield three and defender Elizabeth Wenger, the Hoyas lost no other starters. Schechtman has one more year of eligibility because of her transfer from UCLA, and the backline in front of her returns three starters in Nally, sophomore Kelly Ann Livingstone, and senior Jenna Staudt, as well as graduate student Leah McCullough, who missed the 2017 season to injury. The attack remains solid as well, with senior forward Amanda Carolan, who scored nine goals in 2017, flanked by the pacey Farrell (eight goals) and the tricky junior Paula Germino-Watnick (four goals) on the wings. Also coming back are sophomore Jenna Menta, who showed flashes of her potential last season, and junior Casey Richards, another player who was sidelined in 2017 due to injury. With the team transitioning its new midfielders into the starting lineup during the spring to supplement the abundance of returning talent, the Hoyas won’t need their freshmen to make an instant impact.
One newcomer, however, fits into a category of her own, even among the decorated players returning to Georgetown’s locker room. Graduate student Kyra Carusa comes to Georgetown from Stanford, where she tallied 15 goals and five assists, as well as an impressive 20.5 percent goal conversion rate, during the 2017 season. Last season she started all 25 games for the Cardinal, including against Georgetown last September, where she recorded a goal and an assist. Then she scored in the National Championship game and came away with a ring.
“She’s a different kind of player; she plays a little bit different from how we play, and we’re trying to get used to what she likes to do, and she’s trying to fit in to what we like to do,” Nolan said. “But she is a goalscorer, and I feel like, if presented with opportunities, I really feel like she can score goals.”
The Hoyas will need those goals. As per usual, the team faces a daunting non-conference schedule, with matchups against three preseason top-15 teams: No. 3 Duke on August 23 for its home opener, a Labor Day weekend trip to No. 9 West Virginia, and a Thursday night matchup at No. 13 Princeton before even beginning into the gauntlet that is Big East play. The Hoyas struggled against the top 25 in 2017, failing to score against a ranked team until the Big East Championship game against Butler.
“I think one of the things that we need to focus on when we play these bigger teams is to not get too much into the numbers like the rankings and all that,” Farrell said. “Just focus on what we need to do to win the game.”
“The non-conference part of your season is so important because, for us, we have the important games, we just need to get the results in those games for at large selection and take a little bit of pressure off us where we don’t necessarily have to win the conference tournament,” Nolan said.
Likely because of the lack of results against ranked opponents, Georgetown was forced to travel to Wake Forest in the NCAA first round instead of hosting a first round game, or even earning a tournament two-seed on the way to a Final Four, which is what the Hoyas did in 2016. Ultimately, being at the mercy of a draw based on geographic proximity led to a tougher matchup and subsequent elimination on penalties, a cruel twist of fate to a team that had only lost once since September 1.
“Last year, we should have beat West Virginia here, we should have beat Rutgers,” Nolan said. “Last year, I felt we were better than the team that went to the Final Four.”
A deep run into the NCAA Tournament has become the default goal for the Georgetown women’s soccer team, yet a day-to-day mentality runs through this team; a drive to improve pushes it along from top to bottom. Nolan doesn’t talk about goals. He doesn’t want to divert the players’ focus.
“Just coming into every practice, and every training session, every film, every lift session to become better,” Schechtman said. “You don’t want to walk off the soccer field in any situation, whether it’s practice or a game with regret or thinking that there’s more you could have put in.”
All minds are focused on Friday’s matchup with Georgia. After being pushed by No. 4 Penn State in their final exhibition, the Hoyas realize they have a lot to still work on. The midfield is getting back up to speed, and in a game where Georgetown had few chances, it failed to take advantage. After the first game against a weaker, slower-playing American team, it was a reminder of where they need to be to compete at that level.
“The Penn State game was a great game for us,” Nolan said. “The Georgia game will be similar, except it means something because it’ll go on your record as a ‘W,’ or go on your record as a loss, or maybe even a tie, whereas the Penn State game wouldn’t show.”
The Hoyas kick off the 2018 campaign at 5 p.m. ET on Friday. Follow @GUVoiceSports for updates and game recaps throughout the women’s soccer season, as well as coverage for the rest of the school sports throughout the year.