Dave Nolan’s office is tucked away on the second floor of Georgetown’s McDonough Arena, occupying space once ruled by John Thompson Jr. and a succession of basketball coaches.
Soccer scarves and plaques have replaced the repository of basketball memorabilia, which now adorns an adjacent athletic center named after Thompson, the sport’s towering figure.
Georgetown is a basketball school, but increasingly, a women’s soccer program guided by Nolan for 15 seasons has gained a foothold on not only the Hilltop but on the national scene.
Friday, a few miles west of Raleigh, the undefeated Hoyas will make their second visit in three seasons to the final four, known in NCAA soccer parlance as the College Cup.
Though they have gone this far before, they remain outsiders. The other participants — North Carolina, Stanford and Florida State — have combined for 46 semifinal appearances; Georgetown did not win an NCAA tournament game until eight years ago.
In the 5 p.m. semifinal at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park, the Hoyas (21-0-3) will face North Carolina (20-3-2), whose championship haul (21) is one short of Georgetown’s total number of NCAA tournament matches (22). The Tar Heels had won 10 titles before the Georgetown program was founded in 1993.
“We went to the College Cup in 2016, and you’re thinking, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool: In your career, you went once,’ " said Nolan, Irish born and Seton Hall educated. “Here we are again.”
They are there again because, in a season that annihilated all expectations, the Hoyas kept pace with the only other undefeated team, defending champion Stanford, to repeat as Big East champions and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (Top seeds comprise the entire semifinal field.)
They did not concede more than one goal in any game and allowed nine all year for the second-stingiest goals-against average among 333 programs. They have trailed four times all season and, during an eight-game, month-long span in midseason, they did not face a deficit.
Senior forward Caitlin Farrell is tied for third in the country in goals with 18 — six more than her first three seasons combined — and forward Kyra Carusa, a graduate student who won the national title with Stanford last year, has scored 10 times and assisted on 12, tying her for eighth in the nation.
They’ve got the top-rated goalkeeper in the country (senior Arielle Schechtman), the Big East defensive player of the year from Reston’s South Lakes High (junior Meaghan Nally) and a third front-line threat accompanying Farrell and Carusa (Bethesda-Chevy Chase’s Paula Germino-Watnick).
In their two most recent tournament matches, the Hoyas trounced fourth-seeded Duke, 4-1, and smashed No. 2 Baylor, 3-0. His team played so well last weekend, Nolan said, “it could’ve been 10.”
After graduating several key players from last year’s squad, one that had lost in the NCAA first round, the thought of running almost unscathed through the season seemed ridiculous.
"Before you know it, we’re halfway through the season, we’ve gone through a tough nonconference schedule, and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe we can get back to the NCAA tournament,’ " Nolan said. “We just picked up momentum. By the end of the regular season, I was thinking, 'We don’t give up goals, we probably have the best goalkeeper in the country, we can score from a variety of ways. ... We’ve got a chance."
The motivation, Farrell said, was maintaining the excellence that last year’s seniors had established. (Between 2014 and ’17, the Hoyas went 56-16-18 with four NCAA berths.)
“As much as we loved them,” the Big East’s offensive player of the year said, “we wanted to show we can also keep moving past them, keep building on what they accomplished and keep showing that Georgetown is more than the Big East and who people think we are.”
Farrell scored in 10 consecutive games, including a hat trick against Creighton. This week, she and Schechtman were among 15 players named as semifinalists for the women’s version of the Hermann Trophy, awarded in January to the nation’s top male and female players.
The attack — and the program, at large — received an unexpected boost last spring when Carusa decided to use her final year of eligibility with the Hoyas. She had graduated from Stanford with a degree in human biology and enrolled at Georgetown to pursue a master’s in integrated marketing and communications. (Beyond a pro soccer career, Carusa is considering hospital administration or health care.)
She had also considered Duke and Michigan for graduate work.
Georgetown’s case to Carusa was bolstered by Schechtman, her youth club teammate for years with the San Diego Surf. Schechtman, too, had discovered the Hoyas after playing elsewhere; she transferred from UCLA after two years.
Carusa was a standout at Stanford, scoring 15 times last year and posting the first goal in the 3-2 victory over UCLA in the championship game in Orlando.
“When I was looking [for another school], I definitely looked at the personnel that would be there,” she said. “I felt confident that if this team came together, we were going to have a great season.”
Farrell and Carusa first bonded at U.S. under-23 national team camp early last summer in Carson, Calif.
Graduate students are “only coming in for one year,” Farrell said, “so the biggest thing is how they are going to mesh with the team. Kyra has been exceptional; she has bought into the whole team dynamic. It was really smooth.”
Nolan was happy Carusa did not carry a Stanford mind-set with her.
“Stanford is the team, the school, the program,” he said. “The worry is: Will she compare us to Stanford? That hasn’t been the case at all. She has never once mentioned anything about Stanford, on the field or off the field. She is totally embracing the experience here, enjoying this whole new world, going to exotic [Big East] places like Omaha and Cincinnati and Jamaica, Queens.”
And now the Hoyas find themselves some four hours down the road in Cary, where an expected sellout of 10,000 will back the local Tar Heels.
The setting and soccer history favor North Carolina.
But, Nolan said, “we’ve come a long way. We shouldn’t fear anybody.”
Women’s College Cup
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
TV: All games on ESPNU and ESPN’s digital platforms.
Georgetown (21-0-3) vs. North Carolina (20-3-2), 5 p.m.
Stanford (21-0-2) vs. Florida State (18-4-3), 7:30 p.m.
Sunday’s final, 1 p.m.