Easing into the season, the Elon University women's soccer team will take the field Sunday night, Sept. 1, against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Many positive signs came out of the first weekend of the season for the Phoenix, but there's still work to be done before Elon finds its form.
In a 2-0 win Friday Aug. 23 on the road against Coastal Carolina University, sophomore forward Nicole Dennion tallied an assist and the insurance goal while transfer Alissa Pantuosco got Elon on the board midway through the first half to get the Phoenix off and running.
With two weeks of preseason to prepare for the opening weekend, the Phoenix focused on an aggressive defense that would lead to more offensive pressure up front. So far through two games — most visibly in the East Carolina game Sunday Aug. 25 — the Phoenix have proven the two weeks of practice before the season have paid off, but there's still a need for improvement.
Elon thoroughly dominated East Carolina from the opening whistle to the end of the second overtime. Tallying 25 shots and 14 corner kicks to the Pirates three shots and three corner kicks, the Phoenix could only pull through for one goal, due in large part to ECU's defense.
Arguably, the most important factor coming from the first weekend of the season was the tying goal in the 87th minute from senior forward Chelsey Stark — just three minutes after the Pirates scored to all but pull the rug out from under the Phoenix. Not only did the goal tie the game at 1-all, but it proved something to head coach Chris Neal.
"The last six minutes of the game are a huge indication of who we are already," Neal said. "We dominate for 84 minutes of play and they get one corner kick and score. To a lot of teams, that's the nail in the coffin and we're sitting here at 1-1. But to our kids, they just got up, kept going about business, got it back and we're unlucky not to win in overtime."
Following ECU's goal from Stephanie Seagrave in the 84th minute, the Phoenix took back momentum of the match and tied the game on Stark's goal — one that sent the Phoenix bench into a frenzy after Stark tapped the ball in after dribbling around ECU goalkeeper Sandra Baron.
The goal wouldn't have been possible without a near-perfect through ball from senior captain Olivia Mackey.
Mackey played the ball from just across the midfield line in East Carolina territory between two Pirates and found Stark on the run. The rest was up to Stark.
"We needed to find a way to score, and that's what we did," Neal said. "That's what seniors will give you. Chelsey and Olivia are seniors and in critical moments, that's what we expect from them."
With a week off before taking on Charlotte, Neal said the Phoenix would work on finishing chances after the work on the defense in preseason proved to have paid off on opening weekend.
Charlotte comes to Rudd Field riding a three-game winning streak to start the season.
Playing three games in five days to open the year, the 49ers took a pair of 1-0 wins from Liberty University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington while most recently topping Gardner-Webb University 2-1 on Tuesday Aug. 27.
Charlotte took on three SoCon opponents a season ago on its way to a 10-7-2 overall record. First, they dispatched the College of Charleston, now a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference, and Western Carolina University to start the season before falling to Davidson College a few weeks later to finish with a 2-1 record against SoCon opponents.
Elon and Charlotte have not met since 2000, when the Phoenix was a part of the Big South conference. The Phoenix have never scored against the 49ers, losing the only two contests the teams have played.
In 1999, Charlotte topped Elon 5-0. They followed the victory up a season later with a 2-0 win against the Phoenix.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sunday at Rudd Field.