There’s a commonly misattributed C.S. Lewis quote which reads, “Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn. My God, you learn.” While the quote used in “Shadowlands” — a movie about the world-renowned author — wasn’t actually written by Lewis, it is widely-cited wisdom and highly applicable to sport.
In the 36 years since the first NCAA Women’s College Cup in 1982, only three teams have hoisted the national championship during their maiden appearance in the event with one of those three happening during the inaugural tournament.
Two years ago, the Georgetown Hoyas reached the semifinals for the first time and were defeated by eventual champions USC, 1-0. Now back in the mix after a difficult first-round exit last season, Georgetown hopes that being exposed to the bright lights and pressure that encompass the College Cup will help them reach the summit this time around.
Reaching this stage of the tournament entails some off-field obligations and fanfare that doesn’t exist elsewhere, such as pre-game press conferences and a banquet celebrating all four semifinalists. The fanfare can sometimes draw the player’s attention away from the pitch, many having not yet been exposed to the obligations.
“I think the fact that our current juniors and current seniors, they’ve lived it already, it’s not going to faze them,” Hoyas head coach Dave Nolan said about the impact of the team’s previous trip to the College Cup. “It’s the babies we have to be careful with and make sure they understand not to get distracted, because we’re here to do a job.”
Being unfazed by the challenges or mishaps that the team has faced this season has been a recurring theme for this group of Hoyas. Those including moving home games to other fields in the Washington, D.C., area, adverse weather conditions and trailing their first-round opponent Central Connecticut State at halftime. Nolan said his players’ ability to withstand these happenings in stride is the main quality that influenced the team’s deep tournament run.
“Probably the greatest trait or quality this particular team has is just their ability to deal with stuff; nothing fazes them,” he said. “If you were to tell them we’re not going to play the game out here, we’re going to play over at the parking lot at Shoppers, it wouldn’t faze them. They just have this quality of being able to deal with whatever comes their way.”
While the it isn’t being played in a grocery store parking lot, Friday’s semifinal game is essentially a home game for Georgetown’s opponent. North Carolina’s campus is just a 20-minute bus ride from the gates of Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, North Carolina, and the sellout crowd is expected to be mostly clad in Carolina blue.
When asked about the likely partisan crowd, Nolan stressed that the pitch was the same as any other they had played on and that, “if we can just ignore the locals screaming for blood, we should be okay.”
The Hoyas are focused on playing their game, which starts with a stout defense. In the past three years, goalkeeper Arielle Schechtman has recorded a team-record 47 shutouts. This season, Georgetown has allowed just nine goals in 24 contests.
“I think the reason we have given up so few goals is there’s a mentality on the team that we don’t let the other team score,” Schechtman said. “We don’t let the other team take shots. It starts with our forwards pressing and our midfield and our defense making unreal plays. That makes my job pretty easy.”
Nolan stated his preference is to win stingy 1-0 affairs instead of high-scoring shootouts. Obviously, the Ireland native would surely take a win any way he can get it, and he may get his wish for a low-scoring contest. The Tar Heels went over 1,100 minutes this season — including the entire ACC regular season slate — without allowing a goal.
If Georgetown’s varied yet fluid front line, consisting of Caitlin Farrell, Kyra Carusa and Paula Germino-Watnick can unlock their opponents’ back line, the way they’ve done 38 times collectively this season, the Hoyas could find themselves on the right side of a tight scoreline and book their first trip to a championship game on Sunday.
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