This weekend, the Elon University women’s soccer team will take on Georgia Southern University and Davidson College, both at home, in an effort to secure their spot in the Southern Conference tournament. Only five games remain before the top eight teams battle for the league championship.
“It’s crucial to pick up points this weekend somehow, some way,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “If we can get four or more points out of this weekend then we’re secure and I’ll feel good that we will make the tournament. If we don’t, we’re going to that last weekend fighting for our lives. It’s do or die at that point.”
With the Phoenix sitting in fifth place in the conference, slip-ups this late in the season would be very costly, and both games this weekend are against two teams that have been historically tough games for the Phoenix.
“These games are tremendously important,” Neal said. “I can’t even explain how tough these games are going to be. Against Georgia Southern last year, it was the double overtime 0-0 thriller and they’ve really improved. Davidson has gotten the better of us lately, but they’ve all been close, tight games.”
Through the course of these next five games, three of them are against teams that are in front of the Phoenix in the standings, starting with Davidson. The Phoenix also has matches against the league’s current top team, Samford University, and third place University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“The crazy part is we can still win the league,” Neal said. “We’ve got three teams in front of us left to play out of the top four. If we can pick up results there, now all of the sudden, we’re not only in the top four, we could literally still win the league.”
To make things even tougher this weekend, Sunday’s match against Davidson is also Elon’s Senior Day. The Phoenix will honor its five seniors: midfielders Shannon Foley and Jaclyn Wood, defenders Michelle Pullen and Claire O'Keeffe and goalkeeper Shannon Cosgrove.
Having only been at Elon for five seasons, Neal will say goodbye to his first full recruiting class since arriving at Elon.
“It’s going to be very tough,” Neal said. “There’s going to be a lot of tears but it’s been very enjoyable. They’ve been extremely rewarding. It’s just been a lot of fun.”
Having served as a captain for the last two years, Sunday’s game will represent the second to last game Wood will play at home, which is something she said she never really tried to think about.
“When you’re a senior in high school, you’re upset but you knew you still had four more years to play,” Wood said. “I’m really excited to start a new part of my life, but it’s just going to be different.”
When asked how he will handle the festivities on Sunday, Neal’s answer is not the conventional answer you would expect from a coach.
“What I do before hand is I go mow my grass with my Walkman on and I cry like a baby,” Neal said. “That’s what happens. I’m serious. It’s a given. I try to get it out of my system.”