They’ve already played 10 games in 2013, but for the Elon University women’s soccer team, the real season has just begun with the schedule turning to Southern Conference play.
“(Elon head coach Chris Neal) always calls non-conference the first season and conference the second season,” said senior forward Jennifer McGorty. “We approach both in the same manner as far as how we want to approach games, but now they mean so much more.”
Off to a 6-1-3 start in the 2013 season, the Phoenix is a far cry from where they were a season ago.
In 2012, Elon went 2-5-2 in non-conference play and was battling injuries that signaled times of struggle could be ahead. Instead, the Phoenix bounced back to go 4-3-4 in conference to earn its fourth straight winning record in SoCon play. Only two other teams in the conference have finished with a winning record four straight years — Samford University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Coincidentally, those two finished as the top two teams in the conference in 2012.
This season, Elon has numerous healthy bodies and high-flying goal scorers, something the Phoenix lacked majorly in 2012.
Through 10 games, sophomore forward Nicole Dennion leads Elon with seven goals. McGorty, who moved to forward this season after playing defense in 2012, already has five goals. In 2012, the team’s leading scorer — then-junior Simi Dhaliwal — had just three all season. In 22 games in 2012, Elon scored 23 goals. Through 10 this year, they have 26.
“It really comes down to people putting the ball where it needs to be on crosses,” said senior forward Catherine Brinkman. “The last few years, even when I led sophomore year, it was only five. With [junior midfielder] Beth [Houpt] out last year, we really didn’t have anyone to cross the ball and we’ve stressed that this season because we have numbers. [Senior midfielder] Olivia [Mackey] can get it in. [Senior midfielder] Kimmie [Krauss] can get it in. All of these girls can get the ball where it needs to be and Nicole has just gotten the ball on frame more than she ever has and it’s going in. She plays with such ferocity about her and it’s paying off.”
The lone loss this season has come against Longwood University Sept. 13 in Wilmington, N.C. While it was a 4-3 loss, McGorty said it’s a moment in the season she and the team look back on and know it was still a game the Phoenix could use as a major learning experience moving forward.
“We did lose that game. It was the only game we lost,” she said. “But at one point we were down 3-0 and we were able to come back. Stepping off that field, I was able to still be confident knowing the week before we scored twice against High Point [University] and they were easily shut down. Their confidence was completely gone after those two goals. But with us, you could see everybody was still aggressive and everybody was determined.”
In that match against the Lancers, Elon fell behind 3-0 on numerous mental errors. Junior goalkeeper Kate Murphy had the first goal taken off her foot in the penalty area, but they fought back from the 3-0 deficit to tie the gam. On the ensuing kickoff, Elon fouled Longwood and wasn’t ready for the game-winning free kick late in the match after tying it up just 38 seconds before.
“At the end, we did mentally turn off a little bit,” McGorty said. “But sometimes you learn more from the games you lose. We can’t let that happen again.”
As the conference schedule comes into focus and the 11 teams left in the SoCon battle for supremacy, Elon will fight to prove it’s better than its preseason pick of No. 5 in the conference.
“We’re always picked fifth. Every preseason, it seems like we’re always fifth,” Brinkman said. “I don’t think we’ve been picked any higher since I got here. They can say what they want but we always find a way to fight and have it end up differently.”
Elon enters its third conference match of the “new season” against The Citadel Oct. 4 in Charleston, S.C. The Phoenix enters the match with Dennion leading Bulldogs senior forward Mariana Garcia by one goal for the SoCon lead.
“I was happy with the non-conference segment, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything right now,” Neal said. “This is the new season.”