The New Dogs in Town
When people asked head coach Bill Barker to predict the success of his inaugural Georgia women's soccer team, he simply replied, "Ask me in November."
Now, months later, he is ready to answer. "If you look at what this team accomplished and how they represented the University of Georgia," he said, "you have to be satisfied. In a little over 12 weeks, these girls learned to play and fight together to compile a winning season." Barker's Lady Bulldogs exploded onto the scene in their homefield debut against Georgia State in front of close to 1,500 curious fans. It took freshman Danya Harris roughly seven minutes to score the team's first goal, assisted by Jennifer Lewis.
Three more Lady Dogs also scored as Jennifer Ahern, Alycia Kowal and Mandy Aiken scored in the 4-0 shutout. It didn't take long for the team to develop a sense of drama as the first road trip took the Lady Bulldogs south to Statesboro. Georgia found themselves down by one at the half, but Ahern stepped up and tied the game in the second half. Then, with four seconds remaining on the clock, Ahern beat a Lady Eagle down the field and passed the opposing goalkeeper to punch in her first game-winning goal.
Georgia's next road trip pitted the first-year team against two veteran squads of the SEC, Alabama and Auburn. Despite a last-minute comeback, the Lady Dogs suffered their first defeat at the feet of the Crimson Tide. However, Ahern's game-winning penalty kick against Auburn salvaged the road trip. Her four-goal performance in four matches, including two game-winners, earned her the SEC's first Player of the Week award.
That Auburn match marked the first of 10 games that Barker's team played without junior goalkeeper Mindy Hyde. Hyde, the lone upperclassman on the team, suffered a major bruise to her left leg causing poor circulation. The Lady Dogs then faced out-of conference foes Davidson, Wake Forest and UNC-Greensboro. Georgia won, tied, and lost their matches consecutively. Hungry to play in front of their home crowd, Georgia looked to face SEC powerhouses Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the league's eventual representatives in the 1995 NCAA tournament. After losing 2-0 to Kentucky in 56-degree rain, Georgia managed to tie the 1994 SEC champion Commodores. However, overtime proved too much, as Vanderbilt overtook Georgia to put the team's midseason record at 4-4-1. Against Furman, the Lady Bulldogs managed to avoid a fourth straight loss, but not injury. Aiken's two goals closed the door on the Lady Paladins, although Lewis suffered a broken nose when challenging an opposing player for a ball.
Another blow to the Georgia defense came when Jennifer Lewis went down. Lewis was one of five players who had started every game up to that point. The young team stepped up though, not losing a game from September 28 to October 27. The Lady Bulldogs defeated both UNC-Charlotte and Mercer before facing South Carolina and Florida. In desperate need of more SEC wins in order to qualify for the six-team tournament, the Lady Bulldogs set out for blood. Georgia managed to tie both teams, who were at the bottom and top of the Eastern Division. Georgia's last chance of redemption came with its last four games of the year at home against Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida State and N.C. State. The Lady Dogs defeated their first three opponents before taking on nationally eighth-ranked N.C. State. The Atlantic Coast Conference counterparts scored early in the first half, but goalkeeper Hyde turned in one of her best performances as she knocked away several shots to keep the Georgia's hopes alive until the last minute.
"Each team that we lost to was of note, either NCAA competitors, ranked at one time or with established programs," said Barker of the season. "But now we're looking ahead to next season. That future perspective includes a schedule that has six NCAA tournament participants from this season. Three of those teams were ranked in the Top 10. The players told me that this is what they wanted," Barker explained. "They are basically skipping a year in their development, but we think we'll be ready."