As the selection show progressed and the No. 5 Georgetown women’s soccer team learned it would play St. Francis in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the team exuded a quiet, confident sense of anticipation.
Fresh off the team’s first-ever Big East championship trophy, the Hoyas (16-2-3) were drawn as a No. 2 seed in this year’s 64-team bracket Monday night. Assuming Georgetown advances, its first three games will be held at Shaw Field, the first of which will be on Sunday at noon.
The draw marks the fifth consecutive season the Hoyas have qualified for the tournament, though they have failed to advance past the quarterfinal stage. A string of three straight second-round appearances was broken last season when Hofstra eliminated Georgetown on penalties in the first round.
With a bevy of experienced players and a 4-1 record against teams in the top 25 — the second-best record in the country — the Hoyas have reason to be confident entering their season’s tallest task.
Junior defender Liz Wenger, named to the Big East All-Tournament team on Sunday, felt the additional pressure of the tournament her freshman year, but has been able to tune it out since.
“We’ve been to the NCAA two times since I’ve been here. I’m not going to say it’s old hat, but I’m more comfortable stepping into the tournament than I was when I first started here. And I’m sure that’s the same for all the upperclassmen,” Wenger said. “Our nonconference schedule was very difficult.”
While nearly old hat, this year’s tournament presents the Hoyas with an opportunity: a slightly easier path to the semifinals than in years past. Georgetown’s strongest potential opponents in the two stages after St. Francis (10-12-0) would be Rutgers (11-4-6) and Virginia (13-4-2), both of which Georgetown has already defeated this season.
Head Coach Dave Nolan sees no complacency from the team after the Big East victory and believes it sees a similar opportunity.
“When you get into these tournaments and every team is really playing for their lives, every mistake is magnified, every goal is tougher to score,” Nolan said. “So the games are always going to be tighter. We have been to some extent the victim of bracketing in the past, where we’ve had some ridiculously tough games based on the current format for setting up the tournament.”
St. Francis will be no pushover, however, winning the Northeast Conference Championship with wins over Fairleigh Dickinson (7-12-1) and Central Connecticut State (9-11-1). The Red Flash only conceded one goal in a loss to an impressive George Washington side (11-7-3), and lost 3-1 at tournament top-seeded West Virginia (19-1-1).
In a one-and-done tournament, a mistake or two could end Georgetown’s season, even at the hands of the team with the worst record in the field.
“Now, you can’t afford to slip up. So you have to take every team at their best, and you have to respect everyone you play. And St. Francis have been on a pretty good run,” Nolan said. “They’ve won nine of their last 10. I know Brenda [van Stralen] pretty well, she’s a very good coach. She’ll have a game plan to stop us doing what we do well. And we’ve just got to go out and focus on taking care of business on our home field.”
Looking ahead has not proven an issue for the Hoyas, who have taken games one at a time all season.
“Success for this group will always be, ‘Have they achieved everything they can achieve with no regrets?’ We’ve never talked about goals,” Nolan said. “We’ve never really sat down and said, ‘This will define success and this will define failure.’ We’ve always taken the approach of, ‘Let’s try to get better every day in practice.’”
As for a Big East hangover, Wenger understands the balance to be struck between celebration and preparation.
“You take the time to celebrate,” Wenger said. “You have fun, you revel in the fact that you’ve accomplished something we’ve been working toward for multiple years and eventually you settle down and realize there’s more to come. There’s tomorrow. Got to get back on the field.”
The first-round game will be played on Shaw Field at 12 p.m. Sunday.