A week and a half ago, the Elon University women’s soccer team was in 11th place out of 12 in the Southern Conference. In three games since, the Phoenix have battled for two wins and a scoreless draw, the most recent being a “massive” 2-1 victory of Furman University that now has the Phoenix at No. 5 in the conference.
“Furman is a very good team that has a lot of firepower,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “We took a game plan into the game with the sole purpose of trying to limit the amount of chances we gave them. They’ve been putting up ridiculous numbers of shots so we wanted to make sure we kept that below 20 and we were able to do that. I can’t even tell you how big those three points were. That was huge for us at Furman. That win really turned the conference on its head.”
Elon got on the board in the 24th minute on a corner kick from junior midfielder Olivia Mackey that found senior midfielder Shannon Foley, who headed the ball in for her first goal of the year.
“Foley redeemed herself from the one that hit the bar on Friday night with that goal,” Neal said.
Neal was talking about the corner kick, again from Mackey, in Friday night’s scoreless draw against Wofford College that Foley headed off the bottom of the cross bar.
“She rattled the underside of the crossbar early with a header off a corner that went straight down and looked like it went over the line, but it was hard to tell because it happened so fast,” Neal said. “We had a few good looks on goal in the game but just didn’t score.”
Five minutes later following an Elon turnover in front of its own net, Furman tied the game 1-1 on freshman forward Stephanie DeVita’s 15th goal of the season. The goal extended her conference leading mark in goals scored to five over The Citadel’s Mariana Garcia.
After the Paladins came out in the second half playing a 3-4-3 formation, the Phoenix weathered the storm of pressure from Furman before being rewarded when Elon freshman midfielder Taylor Glenn was taken down in the box and the Phoenix was awarded a penalty kick. Fellow freshman defender Mel Insley stepped up and knocked the penalty home for her first career collegiate goal.
“Just because she’s a freshman doesn’t mean she doesn’t take a good penalty,” Neal said. “She’s been taking really good, confident penalties in training. This is a kid that won a national championship a few months back so it’s not like she’s lacking the confidence.”
Having dealt with adversity all season in the form of injuries, tough losses and having to play seven overtime games, six of them double overtime, Neal thinks the adversity doesn’t really affect them anymore.
“If something goes wrong, our skin is so thick at this point that we just keep fighting to earn something good,” Neal said. “Even with Furman, we weren’t getting exactly what we wanted in the first half in terms of rhythm and tempo. Then we lost possession in front of our goal and DeVita punished us. That was like a buzzkill because we were playing so well, but the girls did not let it faze them. They just don’t let things get to them anymore.”
Now more then halfway through the conference schedule, the Phoenix has proven to be a tough team to play against, as the team has allowed just five goals in conference play, which leads the conference. Sophomore goalkeeper Kate Murphy also leads the league in goals against average and save percentage.
“Looking at stats, it’s mostly good stuff,” Neal said. “Looking back, we’ve been an extremely stingy team to play against that’s been really hard to beat.”