Only six players competed in all 22 of the Elon University women’s soccer team’s matches during the 2012 season. Of those six, only two started every game — Shannon Foley and Claire O’Keeffe.
Both senior captains throughout their final seasons with the team, Foley and O’Keeffe have since graduated and passed the reins on to a group of four more captains.
Tasked with transitioning the 12 freshmen and two transfers, seniors Jennifer McGorty and Olivia Mackey and juniors Raychel Diver and Kate Murphy began the process of acclimating the group early in preseason with an assist from Greek Life by using the big/little system.
“They started, much like a sorority, a big sister/little sister-type program within the team,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “They have given the younger players someone to ask questions to and hang out with and to ask for advice. They just get it. They understand how important it is for the team to mesh.”
With 34 players on the team, each of the players are in small groups, which McGorty said has helped chemistry build quickly throughout the team.
“Each freshman is with a senior or a junior or a sophomore,” she said. “And we’ll do little activities within those groups which are really bringing this team together.”
McGorty also said she and Diver, who entered the program before the 2010 season, have an easier time leading the large team this season because of previous experience they had their freshmen years, when both entered as part of a class of 10 players.
“We came in with 10 and we were a big class then,” McGorty said. “To be honest, it’s a little bit easier for us just because we came in with a big class and they’re coming in with a big class, so we can relate easier as captains compared to past captains.”
Before each season, Neal said the team sets goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Those goal are usually split into categories: non-conference, conference, community and academic.
This season, with such a large team, the Phoenix added another category: chemistry.
“We’ve made it very obvious that the larger the group, the harder team chemistry is to accomplish,” Neal said. “The girls have done just an incredible job — spearheaded by the captains, specifically Jennifer McGorty — they’re doing stuff for team chemistry that we didn’t direct them to do. They’re taking it upon themselves.”
Though not a captain, senior forward Catherine Brinkman will also play a key role in not only helping acclimate the freshmen, but by playing a big role on the field.
As a sophomore in 2011, Brinkman led the Phoenix in goals with five on the season. Throughout her junior season in 2012, she tallied just twice in 10 games while battling multiple injuries throughout the year. Not to mention, she started the first two games of the season in goal, as both keepers were injured at the start of the year.
While Neal has high hopes for the forward in her final year with the Phoenix, Brinkman is eager to regain the form she had in 2011 and expand on it.
“I was here a lot of the summer working with a lot of my teammates, especially a lot of the injured girls,” Brinkman said. “I’m really excited to get this started and hopefully be injury-free and get back at what I love doing.”
With all of the issues the Phoenix was forced to overcome last season, Neal believes the adversity and hardships Elon worked through will only help the team this year — especially the upperclassmen who now know how to fight through constant bad breaks.
“The interesting thing about last year is if you look at the schedule from start to finish and looking at the first half of that schedule and the last half of that schedule, it’s like two different teams played the schedule,” Neal said. “That was an interesting dynamic last year to see how the team overcame diversity, got better and grew and found ways to win late in the year and put ourselves in a position to win a championship and we were really close. That will go miles for our team this season. Miles.”