The Georgetown women’s soccer team (10-3-3, 5-1-1 Big East) faces Villanova University (5-8-3, 3-3-1 Big East) on Shaw Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the last home match of the season and Senior Day for the team’s eight seniors.
Georgetown currently sits tied for second in the Big East with St. John’s University (9-6-1, 5-1-1 Big East), one point behind DePaul University (13-0-3, 5-0-2 Big East), while Villanova is attempting to hold off Butler for the sixth and final place in the conference tournament.
“At this point in the season, all the teams in the conference bar three are still fighting and jockeying for position,” Head Coach Dave Nolan said. “And this seems to be a game that the Villanova kids get up for. The rivalry between Villanova and Georgetown is probably a bit greater than the rivalry of Georgetown towards Villanova,” Nolan said.
Villanova has played its opponents very closely this season, with 12 of their 16 matches this season decided by a goal or less.
In a rivalry game full of emotion and postseason implications, Nolan is not making the mistake of underestimating the Wildcats, a team that the Georgetown coach is very familiar with.
“One of their better attacking players is a girl called [senior attacking midfielder] Vic[toria] Gersh, who actually played for me on my local Bethesda club team … she’s a very talented player,” Nolan said. “They have an outstanding center back in [junior] Emily Damstrom, who we know and we had looked at in the recruiting process. And they have another lively attacking player called [sophomore] Caitlin Forte,” Nolan said.
Tactically, Nolan does not yet know what to expect out of Villanova; many teams this year have tried to stay in a defensive shell and counterattack against the Georgetown, but Creighton University (9-7-1, 1-5-1 Big East) surprised Georgetown on Sunday with a more aggressive offensive strategy. The Hoyas still managed to emerge with a 1-0 road victory.
As for his own team’s lineup, Nolan expects to roll out his typical 4-2-3-1 formation (four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three attacking midfielders, and a striker).
“Certainly for the last five or six years, we’ve always been a team that has worried about doing things our way, and not changing what we do to try to cater to another team,” Nolan said. “This year, we’ve tried to be a team that controls the ball, that keeps the ball,” Nolan said.
Georgetown’s tactics express a desire to break teams down both through high possession and intense attacking as well as through tiring out other teams who are forced to chase the ball on defense.
The lone striker position is filled by one of the senior forwards, Vanessa Skrumbis, who has eight goals on the season, or Audra Ayotte, who has two winning goals in 1-0 Hoya victories.
“The other two attacking players out wide, [junior] Sarah Adams and [freshman] Rachel Corboz, I’m not asking them to run in behind teams,” Nolan said. “I’m asking them to get on the ball and run at teams, which is what they’re pretty good at. And then [senior] Daphne [Corboz] obviously gets a pretty free rein to read what’s in front of her and do what she sees fit.”
Nolan has adapted his tactics based on the skills of the players in his squad, and not based on the strengths of the opposition. Even when Georgetown visited No. 3 Virginia (14-1-0, 6-1-0 ACC) in early September, the Hoyas stayed with their normal shape.
Different players give the Hoyas various styles of play even within the same position in the Georgetown formation.
“A lot of it, too, will be based on the tendencies of the players on the field. So, [sophomore forward] Grace Damaska will play a left-sided winger position a lot different from how Rachel Corboz would.”
When the Hoyas want to throw a different look at an opponent, as they did with great tactical success in the last 15 minutes against St. John’s on Oct. 16, they switch from the 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2, with [senior] Jessie Clinton and Adams as defensive wing-backs.
This system enabled them to get in behind the St. John’s defense, creating several chances which almost led to a late equalizer.
Though playing with only three outright defenders seems risky, the most famous system of women’s collegiate soccer is No. 5 North Carolina’s 3-4-3 formation, with which the Tar Heels (10-2-1, 7-0-0 ACC) have won 21 of 32 NCAA tournaments.
“[North Carolina] predicated that [success] off a 3-4-3 system which involves a constant press of your team,” Nolan said. “And they were fortunate in that they were able to get 20 top-quality athletes, so they were able to press you for 90 minutes because they could bring the same quality kids off the bench that they had who started,” Nolan said.
With an increase in parity, and four different national champions in the past four seasons, teams seem to have figured out the 3-4-3, and strong squads such as No. 4 Stanford (12-1-2, 4-1-1 Pac-12) and Virginia have subsequently switched to a 4-3-3.
But Nolan says the 4-2-3-1 that he employs is now very common, too, and reflects a broader change in the game’s style of play.
“The game has become far more about counter attacking. The game has become more about, in that moment of transition when the ball turns over, which team is going to use that turnover to best effect,” Nolan said.
So far this season, Georgetown has been very strong in controlling those turnovers and using them to their advantage. The Hoyas hope to continue Sunday against Villanova. Kickoff at Shaw Field is set for 1 p.m.