After knocking off Francis Marion University on Sunday, Sept 16 in their final non-conference game of the season, the Phoenix women’s soccer team feels like they could be well on their way to putting their sluggish start and injury-plagued non-conference portion of the schedule behind them as they start conference play this weekend.

“We look nothing like what I had pictured a month and a half ago but I feel great,” Neal said. “We’ve been dealt some adversity and we’ve adopted a little bit of an underdog mentality. This team is starting to get angry and we’re starting to get tough and hopefully over the next couple of weeks we can slowly put together some depth and get some more dynamic players back in the mix."

Finishing non-conference play with an overall 2-5-1 record, the Phoenix will travel to Western Carolina for the conference opener on Friday, Sept. 21 in Cullowhee, N.C. Sophomore Kim Gardner believes the tie against High Point on Friday, Sept. 14 and the win over Francis Marion will give the team the much needed momentum to be able to go on the road in a conference opener and pull out a win.

“We struggled a little bit early in the season, so it’s really good to be undefeated this last weekend going into conference,” Gardner said. “That’s definitely going to boost our confidence for the long run.”

One thing one must remember is this is not the first time the Phoenix have been in a situation like this. The injuries are a new hurdle to clear, but as for the record, it’s something the team is somewhat familiar with. Elon got off to a similar start a year ago with 2-4-2 record in non-conference.

“This isn’t totally foreign to us,” Neal said. “The injuries are something we’ve had to deal with this year but last year, we were 2-4-2 going into conference play and we ended up with a 6-3-2 record in conference.”

In Neal’s mind, though the injuries are never wanted, they could be something of a blessing in disguise for the Phoenix entering conference.

“I like the idea that nobody will know who exactly we are going into the league because there’s going to be a lot of new bodies introduced come conference time,” Neal said.

Junior forward Simi Dhaliwal has already scored more goals this season with three then she did all of last year; she had just two. Neal said Dhaliwal has taken more of a goal scorer’s mentality instead of always wanting to be on the ball.

“Center forward’s job is to score goals. Bottom line,” Neal said. “Simi has done a great job getting herself into dangerous areas and trusting her teammates to get her the ball in those dangerous areas. In the past, she’s wanted to get involved with too many things that dragged her out of the dangerous areas because she wants the ball. She’s done a much better job of sitting and waiting for the ball to get to her.”

After a tightly contested match with Western Carolina a season ago that the Phoenix pulled out in double overtime, Neal expects this year’s tilt to be no different. And fittingly enough, it was Dhaliwal’s second goal of the 2011 season that gave the Phoenix the late win just a season ago.

“They’re really balanced and there’s no real weak link in their starting lineup,” Neal said. “I think it’s going to be a very good soccer game. Both teams have personnel that can cause problems for the other team and we play similar formations so it’s going to be a battle of who wants it more and who executes.”

After the game against Western Carolina, the Phoenix will return home on Sunday, Sept. 23 for their home conference opener against rival Appalachian State University.

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