“Winning is the only type of momentum you want.”
Elon University women’s soccer head coach Chris Neal, who said the above statement, has a clear goal.
The Phoenix is coming off a weekend in which they had the highest number of healthy players and used the most subs in a game this season. The results showed, tying The Citadel 1-1 Sept. 28 and defeating College of Charleston 2-0 Sept. 30.
The Cougars were ranked second in the Southern Conference prior to the season.
“I think the Charleston game was a really big turning point for our team this season,” sophomore Kim Gardner said. “We hadn’t won a conference game yet and we had a lot of games in overtime and our legs are a little bit tired, so we really needed that win to pick ourselves back up and show that we can really prove our place in this conference.”
The Phoenix enters this weekend’s matchups with Wofford College and Furman University riding high after last weekend’s results, and will look to build on their momentum against two teams that have played the Phoenix tough throughout the years.
Since Neal took over in 2008, the Phoenix have matched up with Wofford and Furman four times each.
In matchups with Wofford, the Phoenix is 3-1, but nothing has come easy by any means against the Terriers. Each game has been a one-goal game with last year’s victory needing two-second half goals from Gardner to give the Phoenix a 2-1 come-from-behind win.
“This year, Wofford’s results in conference haven’t been good, but every year we play them, it’s always a great game,” Neal said.
As for Furman, it’s a similar story. The Phoenix is 2-2 in the last four years against the Paladins. Each team has scored five goals in those four games.
“Furman started off looking like a juggernaut, and then lost at College of Charleston, which made them human again, but they’re still very good,” Neal said. “If you look at all of the conference offensive stats, they’re still leading in just about every category - shots, goals, goals per game, you name it. They’ve got a lot of firepower on that team.”
With 20 minutes left in the game against Charleston, sophomore Caroline O’Dee picked up Elon’s first yellow card of the season. Neal followed 17 minutes later with a card of his own. With Neal saying he averages one yellow card a year, that could be the team’s last yellow cards of the season, as the Phoenix is one of the best in the nation year in and year out in terms of taking penalties and drawing cards. It’s something the Phoenix will use to their advantage, particularly against Furman.
“Furman is a team that is extremely good on set pieces,” Neal said. “You have to try and play as much of the game in their defensive half as possible. That’s how they beat us last year: two corner kicks. Can’t give them corner kicks. Can’t give them free kicks. They’ve got too many players that just know how to put the ball where it needs to be.”
According to Neal, 16 healthy players will be making the trip to South Carolina. The Phoenix know they can’t lose another player in order to keep playing at the level they were on against The Citadel and College of Charleston.
“We brought a lot of energy against Charleston,” Neal said. “It was very direct, in your face, going forward, getting people in the midfield just running, running, running, cleaning up everything, and it was fun to watch. We can’t afford more injuries, otherwise we’re not going to be able to play with the same tempo we played with on Sunday.”
Kickoff on Friday, Oct. 5 against Wofford is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday’s kickoff at Furman is 2 p.m.
“This is just one of those weekends where our heart and our work-rate needs to create chances for us, and we just need to execute on those chances,” Neal said.