Having advanced to the College Cup with a win over Santa Clara last weekend, the No. 2 Georgetown women’s soccer team will take on No. 7 USC in San Jose, Calif., Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST in its first ever trip to the Final Four.
Joining the Hoyas (20-2-3, 6-1-2 Big East) and USC (17-4-2, 8-2-1 Pac-12) in the Final Four are No. 6 North Carolina (17-3-4, 6-2-2 ACC) and No. 1 West Virginia (22-1-2, 8-0 Big XII).
Georgetown (20-2-3, 6-1-2 Big East), having already earned its Big East championship, flew to San Jose on Wednesday with a lot of confidence. The Hoyas, who are the only team to beat the Mountaineers this season, are aware of the tough challenge ahead.
“It’s wide open,” Head Coach Dave Nolan said. “It really is wide open. For the first time in a few years, there isn’t that one loaded UCLA team, or that one loaded Stanford team, where everybody deep down knows they’re playing for second. All four teams will genuinely feel, ‘This is our year. This is our year to win it. We won’t have a better opportunity.’ And that’s how we’re approaching it.”
With the extra media attention, a Thursday night banquet and a police escort to the 18,000 capacity Avaya Stadium on Friday for the semifinal, Nolan knows the team faces distractions.
He hopes to mitigate those with consistency, by keeping the same scouting reports and same practices, but foresees the biggest potential distraction as people wanting to be a part of the momentous occasion.
Nolan’s hope is that it will feel like just another weekend road trip for the players.
“It’s the key to the whole thing,” Nolan said. “You can tackle this in two different ways: You can go out and make it all about the experience, and that’s fine. Or if you’re serious about winning, you can go out with the mindset that it’s just another weekend. … But it’s going to be hard, because there are so many new things, there are so many distractions.”
Much of Georgetown’s postseason success has been a credit to its defensive line, which has yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
Graduate student defender Marina Paul has been a vocal leader all season and sees how that back line has developed over the course of the season.
“Every shot, every opportunity is do or die, so we put our bodies on the line,” Paul said. “I think we’ve gotten a lot better at playing together, covering each other, knowing our certain tendencies as defenders.”
Georgetown has played exciting soccer all season and has scored the second-most goals in the country with 61. Junior midfielder Rachel Corboz’s 16 assists lead the nation, and as a result, she has been named as one of 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s MVP award.
In preparing for USC, Georgetown seems to be only growing in confidence.
“They’re going to present us some problems with their athleticism,” Nolan said. “But I’d like to think that we are good enough to present them with problems too. Listen, at this stage of the year, we’ve proven we can score goals against anybody. We have different people stepping up and scoring goals in a variety of ways. And each game it’s someone different.”
Interestingly, the Hoyas are familiar with the USC team, as Paul is from Southern California and graduate student forward Crystal Thomas played with USC standout senior midfielder Morgan Andrews when she played at Notre Dame.
“I know a lot of girls just because they’re all from Southern California, so I grew up playing club against them,” Paul said. “For me, it’s more fun, because I’m playing people that I know. It’s so much more personal, on top of it being the semifinals.”
The Hoyas have vaulted from an unranked team before the season began to one of the nation’s top teams, but even after five successful seasons, Paul admitted she still gets nervous stepping onto the field.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere. I still get those butterflies in my stomach, but it’s more of an excited nervous energy. The biggest thing for me is just remembering yes, it’s the semifinals, but it’s just another soccer game with the team I’ve been playing with all season,” Paul said. “The biggest thing is to stay confident and stay true to what we’ve been doing all season. And I know that our ability will help us win out.”