Following a challenging start, the Navy women's soccer team has utilized a more balanced offense and solid defense to become one of the nation's hottest teams.
Since losing its first two games of the 2017 season to Tennessee and Maryland, Navy has won 11 of its past 12. Since falling at No. 2 Stanford Sept. 3, the Midshipmen, who will take an 11-3 record into their Oct. 7 contest against Patriot League rival Boston University, have compiled seven-game winning streak. The streak, during which the Midshipmen have outscored their opponents, 22-2, is Navy's best since the 2013 team won 10 straight games.
Head coach Carin Gabarra's club has surged to the top of the Patriot League, sweeping all four of its conference opponents and allowing one goal in the process. The Midshipmen extended their successful run with a 2-0 shutout of visiting Lehigh Sept. 30.
"We like to schedule the best teams that we can in order to see where we are, how we can get better and what we can learn," Gabarra said. "We've improved in a lot of areas since the early season. We want to stay compact, attack as a team and defend as a team."
The defensive unit, which has allowed 13 goals in 14 games, is anchored by sophomore Sydney Fortson (1.01 goals-allowed average, five shutouts), who earned the Patriot League's Goalkeeper of the Week honor Oct. 2. The improved defensive effort is a particular source of pride for Gabarra.
"If you don't give up goals, you can't lose games," said Gabarra, who has posted a 315-144-45 mark in her 25 years at Navy. "We have four good goalkeepers, so Sydney is being pushed every day in practice. Her calm demeanor is a big part of our success."
Navy's offensive diversity has also been a key. Clare MacAdam was Navy's top scorer during the 2016 season, totaling six goals and six assists. But the senior forward has plenty of help this season.
Junior midfielder Eleanor Pratt has scored a team-leading nine goals and added one assist a year after totaling one goal and three assists. Junior forward Ash Fairow (seven goals, one assist) earned the Patriot League's Offensive Player of the Week honor Oct. 2 after scoring the Midshipmen's first goals in shutout victories against American and Lehigh. Fairow is tied for the NCAA Division I lead with six game-winning goals.
Senior midfielders Meghan Hegarty (two goals, four assists) and Natalie Dzhandzhapanyan (two, three) have already surpassed their 2016 scoring totals.
"We play better soccer when we're balanced," Gabarra said. "We want to get chances from all over the field. Clare has been instrumental to our success. Eleanor can strike the ball hard with both feet, and we like her in the big moments."
MacAdam has continued to move up the Navy career scoring chart. Her three goals and four assists have boosted the Palmyra, N.J., native into the program's top 20 in goals (eighth, with 27) and points (tied for eighth, with 70).
The Midshipmen, who finished 9-11-2 overall and 4-4-1 in conference play last fall, are primed to make a run at their first Patriot League tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth since the 2007 season. Nearing the midway point of the conference schedule, Navy is tied for the Patriot League lead with Bucknell at 4-0-0. The Midshipmen and Bison will meet in the regular-season finale at Navy's Glenn Warner Soccer Facility Oct. 28.
While the long-term goal of an NCAA Tournament berth is attainable for her squad, Gabarra is not looking past the upcoming matchup against visiting Boston University, which at 3-0-1 is just a half-game behind the Patriot League co-leaders.
"The focus is now on Boston," Gabarra said. "There is a lot of parity in the Patriot League right now, so we have to show up for every single game. This group has been able to zero in on the next game and the next moment."
Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics