After going 5-1-2 in nonconference competition, the Elon University women's soccer team entered Southern Conference play and didn't miss a beat in a 3-1 victory against Western Carolina University Thursday, Sept. 26.
The Phoenix, who last battled Virginia Commonwealth University to a 1-1 draw Sept. 22, struggled to get an early jump on opponents in recent games. That wasn't the case Thursday against the Catamounts.
In the 9th minute, senior forward Jennifer McGorty scored her fourth goal of the season in front of goal on a cross from junior midfielder Marissa Russo to give the Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
Just two minutes later, Western Carolina knotted the game with a goal from junior Caitlyn Bradham on a header in the box.
The tie didn't last long, thought, as sophomore forward Nicole Dennion put Elon up 2-1 in the 20th minute on a corner kick. The assists on Dennion's seventh goal of the season went to senior midfielder Olivia Mackey and senior forward Chelsey Stark.
"There were two critical points in this game," said Elon head coach Chris Neal. "No. 1 was we gained momentum early and then they scored. Then, getting that go-ahead goal before halftime was critical."
While the Phoenix took a 2-1 lead into the break, Stark made it 3-1 just minutes into the second half to give Elon insurance moving forward.
"The go-ahead goal was huge, but the third goal was huge," Neal said. "That's a critical change for us big-time. The third goal makes them chase and it opens up more for us. We start questioning teams and we shape better."
Western Carolina challenged Elon junior goalkeeper Kate Murphy throughout the night, finishing with eight shots, five of which were on goal, but Murphy held strong after the lone goal in the 11th minute.
"Western Carolina was more dangerous in the 4-4-2," Neal said. "But they went down 3-1 and shifted to a 4-3-3 and I thought hat played to our advantage."
Elon finished with 12 shots, five of which were on frame.
"We came out with a lot of energy and I was really excited, especially me and the senior class, because it's the last first conference game for us," McGorty said. "We're extremely excited about a 3-1 result."
The Phoenix will return to the field Sunday, Sept. 29 against Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. Kick is scheduled for 3 p.m.
"This was a fantastic performance by everybody," Neal said. "It couldn't have been a better result for us. What a positive first step"