The 2012 version of the Elon University women’s soccer team brings something into the season the program has yet to see under head coach Chris Neal. With 10 starters and 18 players total returning to the maroon and gold this season, experience will not be a problem for the Phoenix this year.

“To win, you have to have talent and you have to have experience,” Neal said. “I think it just has to be a combination of the two to win, and this is the first year I’ve been here that we’ve had this amount of experience on the field.”

Of those starters, Elon returns its leading scorer from last year in junior forward Catherine Brinkman, senior midfielder Jaclyn Wood, as well as 2012 preseason all-conference sophomore goalkeeper, Kate Murphy.

After finishing tied for fifth last season in the Southern Conference, and being pre-ranked sixth this season, Elon’s experience mixed with the fresh faces that come in the form of seven incoming freshmen will have some work to do before reaching their goal of a conference championship.

“If the girls want to take (the pre-rank) as an insult, then sure let’s go for it and use it, but it is what it is,” Neal said. “We’ll be upset if we don’t win a conference championship. Anything less than that is equal disappointment.”

Of those seven incoming freshmen, Neal projects them to make an immediate impact thanks not to only their talent, but also pre-existing injuries to other players that will force the rookies into action early.

“You’re going to see freshmen on the field immediately,” Neal said. “We have a lot of injuries to returning players, so it’s nice to have a freshmen class that can fire right in and doesn’t skip a beat.”

The Phoenix has three “power six” conference opponents on its schedule this year in Big East opponent University of Cincinnati, national runner-up from a season ago in Duke, and North Carolina State, both from the ACC.

Elon fought Cincinnati to a 1-1 draw on opening night at Rudd Field Friday, Aug. 17 before traveling to Durham to take on second-ranked Duke University. The Phoenix suffered an 8-0 loss at the hands of the Blue Devils, but Neal said the team took the loss as a “learning experience,” for the rest of the season. Elon will take on N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 2.

Looking to improve on their six conference wins from a year ago, Elon opens its conference schedule Sept. 21 on the road against Western Carolina University, before the conference home opener two days later against Appalachian State University.

With 11 conference games, the Phoenix round out the regular season at home on Oct. 24 against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before the SoCon Tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

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