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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Women’s soccer uses young lineup to power offense

Freshman midfielder Marina Pareja fights with a Dayton player for the ball during Sunday’s match.

Women’s soccer is competing with one of the youngest lineups in the Atlantic 10.

So far this season, the freshmen and sophomores who have seen time on the field have been responsible for 12 of the team’s 22 goals. Together, the underclassmen account for 59 percent of the Colonials’ goals this year and 60 percent of the shots taken.

“The best 11 are always going to play,” head coach Michelle Demko said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re all freshmen or all seniors or a little bit of both.”

Only one of the 14 other Atlantic 10 teams, George Mason, has relied on younger players to make up a large portion of its offense.

65.4 percent of the Patriots’ offense has been generated by freshman or sophomore players, but 46.2 percent of the total offense, equivalent to 12 goals, have been scored by a single player – freshman midfielder Emma van der Vorst.

When the Colonials took the field against Dayton Sunday, five of the players in their starting lineup of 11 were either in their first or second year with the team. Three of the Colonials’ starting positions were occupied by freshmen – defenders Hannah Zaluski and Madi Coyne and midfielder Maria Pareja.

Zaluski has started in all 16 of GW’s matchups and Pareja has played in all 16 while starting in 12. Coyne got the call to start in the past three games because redshirt junior defender Megan McCormick was on the bench with an injury.

Pareja said the biggest adjustment in her first year has been getting used to a much faster speed of play in collegiate games.

To improve against quicker competition, she said she has been focusing on getting a better vision of the field.

“I just try to be in a role where I’m always creating chances,” Pareja said.

Freshman midfielders Alexandra Filipkowski and Beth Ellinport have also seen substantial minutes this season for the team. Demko said Ellinport was a crucial component to the team’s overtime win against Dayton Sunday.

Ellinport has seen time in 15 games so far, while Filipkowski has appeared in 11. Together, the offensive duo has tallied three goals on the season and 10 shots on goal.

Sophomore Alexis Williams was the Colonials’ leading scorer before suffering a torn ACL in a Sept. 9 game against Maryland. She was one of two freshmen last season that consistently held a starting spot for the team.

Despite being out of the lineup for more than a month, Williams’ four goals on the season are tied for second on the team with sophomore midfielder Natalie Silberman and one behind senior forward Sofia Pavon, who has totaled five.

Silberman said the experienced players have been holding the freshmen accountable since the beginning of the season.

“We all know how to play well with each other and if someone’s not playing well, we always talk during halftime and talk things out with each other,” Silberman said.

She said the biggest change she has noticed from her first year to her second is the shift in the program’s focus, ushered in by Demko and her staff in their first year with the program.

“This year we’ve tried to be more attack-oriented and we were more defensive-oriented last year,” Silberman said.

The combination of a first-year coaching staff and a young lineup has not been without its challenges, Demko said, but by this point, her underclassmen have “settled in.”

Demko added that having such a young lineup is advantageous because they are used to high school club seasons where multiple games are played back-to-back, so they experience less fatigue.

“They can probably absorb more minutes and not be as fatigued in terms of somebody like a senior,” Demko said.

With two games of the regular season remaining, Demko said the biggest challenge to her lineup will be ensuring her players remain healthy.

She said the freshmen and sophomores who initially were not seeing much time have been crucial as the team tries to adjust to lineup changes due to injuries.

“It’s just sort of the mentality is next player up, whether it’s injury or what have you,” Demko said. “That’s been really great to see.”

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