With the preseason over, fresh sod set on Shaw, and new faces eagerly waiting in the wings, the Georgetown women’s soccer program is looking to get back to business as usual. The thing is, business as usual is becoming an increasingly high bar to clear for the high-flying Hoyas.
Last year, the Blue and Gray won their second straight Big East regular season title, third straight Big East Tournament, and made their second College Cup appearance in three years, ending in a semifinal exit at the hands of North Carolina. The coaching staff, headed by Dave Nolan, was also named the United Soccer Coaches National Coaching Staff of the Year.
After last year’s accolades, there are considerable expectations for this team heading into the 2019 season. Georgetown was ranked No. 7 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll and was picked as the Big East favorite for the third year in a row. In addition, senior forward Paula Germino-Watnick and senior defender Meaghan Nally were both named to the watchlist for the Missouri Athletics Club (MAC) Hermann Trophy, an award given to both the top male and female soccer players in the country.
But while their track record encourages optimism, the Hoyas will still have to overcome their fair share of challenges this season. Georgetown will need to establish new sources of goal production after losing last year’s top scorers, Kyra Carusa and Caitlin Farrell, who together scored 28 of the team’s 53 goals. Rather than focusing on who they lost, though, the players are instead looking ahead to the next crop of stars they’ll develop.
“Obviously they were amazing players, and it is hard to lose two of your leading scorers, but at the same time, each year we create a new identity,” graduate student forward Amanda Carolan said. “And I think Dave [Nolan] does a good job of matching our style of play to the personnel we have.”
That new identity begins with Germino-Watnick, who had eight goals and six assists last season. Germino-Watnick is a tantalizing player to watch when she’s on the ball, and the Hoyas will look to play primarily through her. That said, she is more of a playmaker than a pure finisher, meaning the team will need to rely on Carolan to produce goals. Carolan is an experienced striker who scored nine goals in 2017 and added another four goals and four assists in 2018. Still, fans can expect her to play an even bigger role in Georgetown’s attack this season.
“Amanda’s a very good player, and especially with the way we play, she’s a very good target player,” Nolan said. “She’s probably been a little bit unselfish over the years, and we’ve been trying to get her to be a little more selfish.”
Carolan, Germino-Watnick, and the other seniors are especially excited about this season because they have a chance to make history. Once they reach 12 wins this season, they will become the winningest class in school history.
“It definitely speaks volumes to the hard work that we’ve put in over the past three years and on top of that just having the opportunity to be the only class ever to have won four Big East Championships,” Carolan said. “That’s something that will definitely go down in history.”
Also in this senior class, veteran midfielders Sarah Trissel and Carson Nizialek will hold down the center of the pitch again this year. Junior midfielder Grace Nguyen, who started 21 games and tallied nine assists last season, is currently unavailable due to an injury. According to Nolan, freshman midfielder Julia Leas is the most likely to take her starting spot, while sophomore midfielders Devon Lis and Maya Fernandez-Powell will begin to gain important experience in the midfield.
“She’s a very, very good central midfielder,” Nolan said of Leas. In fact, Leas scored against James Madison University in just her first start.
The defense should be strong again this year, led by reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year Meaghan Nally. Joining her in the center of the backline will be junior Kelly Ann Livingstone and sophomore Charlie Kern, who was injured last season. Sophomore fullbacks Jenna Royson and Boo Jackson will drop back and push up as needed on the wings. Last year, the Hoya defense had 15 shutouts and allowed just 10 goals. Nolan says to expect freshman Anna Leat to be the starter in goal.
Georgetown will need to find their form quickly because they have an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. They are playing five teams that finished in the NCAA top 30 rankings a year ago, including two top-10 teams in Duke and Virginia.
“It’s good not only for us to measure ourselves against a good team out of our conference but also to work on the things we need to work on and be our best going into Big East play,” Carolan said.
Strong performances against these top-ranked opponents are also vital to securing a higher seed and home-field advantage in the NCAA Tournament.
“Those non-conference games against big opponents are really big, especially later in the season when we’re hoping to think about the NCAA Tournament in terms of our RPI [Rating Percentage Index] and everything,” Nally said.
RPI ranks teams according to their win-loss record and strength of schedule. This means that wins against higher-ranked opponents earn a team a higher seeding in the tournament, which is why Nolan and his staff schedule such highly regarded opponents.
“Think about the fact that only one non-Power 5 team has made the Final Four since 2005 and it’s been us. We’ve done it twice. There hasn’t been another non-Power 5 team that’s done what we’ve done,” said Nolan. “It’s incredibly difficult for the non-Power 5 schools to get respect, but also to have the body of work that’s needed, which is why it’s very impressive what we’ve managed to do over the last few years.”
The Hoyas have been challenged in their first few games, beating James Madison 2-1 before falling 3-1 to No. 17 NC State and drawing with No. 10 Duke. The road doesn’t get any easier from here, as Georgetown plays Bucknell this Sunday at Shaw Field and then travels to No. 6 Virginia on Thursday.
Image Credits: John Picker