The Elon University women’s soccer team returned from Wilmington, N.C. on Sunday night having lost both games of the UNCW Courtyard Marriott Tournament this weekend. But there’s a general feeling in the air that changes in fortune seem to be coming for the Phoenix.
It’s been a tough season already for the Phoenix women’s soccer team, and they’re not even in conference yet.
Injuries have killed the Phoenix early on. The latest to catch the injury bug is freshman midfielder Samantha Burch. Burch suffered a torn ACL in the Coastal Carolina match on Aug. 30 that will sideline her for the remainder of the season. Burch led the Phoenix in points on the season with three. She tallied one goal and one assist, with the goal coming in the team’s only win of the season to this point against VMI on Aug. 24.
“It happened in the first five minutes of the Coastal Carolina game,” head women’s soccer coach Chris Neal said. “She just kind of jumped for a ball and when she came down on her left leg, she got a little bit of a bump from a defender that shifted her weight just enough and it was confirmed this week as a torn ACL.”
Burch becomes the second victim of a torn ACL this season for the Phoenix, as sophomore Bethany Houpt tore her ACL in July.
Of the seven freshmen from head coach Chris Neal’s 2012 recruiting class, four have been sidelined with various injuries, with Burch the latest to join that list. Forward Nicole Dennion missed three games because of illness, but has since returned to the lineup while defenders Katie Boyle and Mel Insley have yet to see the field. Boyle has a lower body injury while Insley has been sidelined with fitness issues stemming from a summer illness.
Neal hopes Burch will be able to get a medical redshirt out of the injury, having only played in four matches this season for the Phoenix.
“That’s my hope,” Neal said. “She only played in four games, and she really only got to play five minutes of that fourth game, so I’m confident she’ll be able to get a medical redshirt out of that.”
Others to miss time for the Phoenix early on are juniors Catherine Brinkman and Jennifer McGorty and sophomore Kate Murphy. Brinkman returned to the field this weekend for limited minutes against Troy after missing time with fitness issues while Murphy has returned after an early hand injury forced her out of the team’s first two contests. But McGorty has yet to see the field this season with a lower body injury.
Despite the injuries, Neal really liked how the team performed in both games on the weekend, even if the result on the scoreboard didn’t reflect the effort on the field. In fact, he went as far as to call the Phoenix the “more dominant team” in both of the matches this weekend against Troy University and Campbell University.
“We definitely played better this weekend then in weeks past,” Neal said. “We’re starting to see some really nice chances being created. The toughness of the team and the spirit of the team was fantastic this weekend. It’s so weird to say this, but I feel great about how we played (Sunday). I hate losing, but at the same time, I feel great about what we did on the field this weekend and we definitely got better.”
Though the team left multiple players behind for the trip, Neal thought being away for the weekend in Wilmington might turn out to be a turning point for the team this season.
“I think just being on the road for three or four days, it certainly helps build team chemistry even in losses,’ Neal said. “There’s a lot of little things, like (Saturday), the team had lunch together at a friend of the program’s house. They took a little walk around the beach, and just little team bonding activities like that, they keep spirit up.”
Neal also said the Phoenix are cutting down on mistakes in the back that have been very costly to this point. But those few mistakes proved costly this weekend. Neal termed both early goals in the two games “soft.”
“It almost seems like the few mistakes we’re making at the back now, we’re just getting absolutely punished for,” Neal said.
On another positive note, the Phoenix didn’t suffer any major injuries on the trip. The only injury Neal could account for after Sunday’s game: a strained quad for junior midfielder Olivia Mackey.
“Nothing major at all. We’re hoping anyway.” Neal said.