Paula Germino-Watnick celebrates a Hoyas victory Credit: Courtesy Georgetown Athletics

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The second-ranked women’s college soccer team in the nation was in trouble. With the wind in their faces, the Georgetown Hoyas had to earn every inch. Each pass and dribble required extra effort. The heavy gusts of wind acted like an additional defender. Georgetown entered the NCAA tournament without a loss, but early in its first-round matchup against Central Connecticut State on Saturday afternoon, the top-seeded Hoyas struggled to assert their dominance.

“The wind was awful in the first half,” junior midfielder Sarah Trissel says after the game. “But we had the same thing earlier in the season  We knew whatever happened in the first half we’d be able to come back stronger in the second.”

Georgetown, like it has done all season, stayed composed. The team claimed a third straight Big East championship earlier this month and has been near the top of national polls with their potent offense and shutdown defense. Against Central Connecticut, the Hoyas rallied from a halftime deficit to advance to the second round with a 3-1 victory.

But it did not come without adversity.

The Blue Devils got on the board first, taking a 1-0 lead into the halftime break on the strength of a goal in the 20th minute by Danielle Pearse. The Georgetown fans were stunned silent for a bit and their nervous energy, and audible displeasure with the referees, remained well into the second half.

“You’d hope that you can somehow, through the pace of play, through the early feeling out period [that] you can get to the half without giving up a goal,” head coach Dave Nolan says on the field after the game. “And then our worst nightmare, they just had that spell of about five or seven minutes.”

Undeterred, his confident, experienced team was as comfortable playing from behind as it was with ultimately dealing with the wind.

“They don’t tend to get flustered,” Nolan says.

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Though the team has been a stalwart defensively, posting 13 shutouts on the season, it also has plenty of offensive firepower, with the crafty Paula Germino-Watnick and Grace Nguyen in the midfield along with graduate student Kyra Carusa and senior goal-collector and Big East offensive player of the year Caitlin Farrell up front to give the players confidence despite trailing.

“There were a couple of games this year where we went down a goal and I think we all just knew to stay calm and that it would come,” Trissel says. “We just had to stay composed.”

In the 70th minute, Germino-Watnick broke through with the equalizer. Carusa found the junior in the middle of the box and she capitalized on the open look.

“The goal came in a great moment,” Nolan says. ”Right at the time we were going to make a [tactical] change … Once we got that then I think the belief these guys had was, ‘We’re going to win the game.’”

Eight minutes later, Georgetown took the lead with a goal from senior forward Amanda Carolan. After a flurry of chances at net, Carolan knocked in a rebound and was mobbed by her teammates for netting the go-ahead goal.

A rough foul at the edge of the box helped Georgetown tack on an insurance goal after the referee awarded Carusa a penalty shot. Her initial attempt sailed past the goalie’s hands and off the post before she was able to put in the rebound.

“I think we had more in us,” Carusa says of the three-goal effort. “The two halves show two different games.”

Shots on goal were tied at three apiece after the first half but in the second, Georgetown outshot the Blue Devils, 12-1.

With a second-round matchup against Washington State taking place on Nov. 16 at Georgetown’s Shaw Field, Nolan has his squad poised to make another deep NCAA tournament run. They made the Final Four in 2016 and have a decent amount of holdovers from that roster. After a disappointing early exit last season, this year represents an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of sustained excellence that could vault them into the conversation with the game’s established national powers.

But it won’t be easy. Washington State is no slouch, and matchups with nationally-ranked Duke, University of Virginia, or Baylor could be in the cards should they advance from there.

“I think it’s just so important,” Trissel says, “no matter who you’re playing, to know that it could be your last game … I think the sophomores and the freshmen know that environment and they know how much we all want to win.

“We all came out with that ‘we win or we die’ mentality today and I think that’s what’s most important.”