Sophomore forward Nicole Dennion entered Friday night's match against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga tied with Furman University sophomore forward Stephanie DeVita for the Southern Conference lead. Dennion walked off Rudd Field 90 minutes later with a two-goal lead on DeVita as she scored a hat trick to lead the Elon University women's soccer team over the Mocs 3-0.
"Finally," Dennion said of getting past DeVita for the conference lead. "My freshman year was a slow building year but this year I came out rolling."
Dennion’s 13 goals are the most in a single season Elon history since making the transition to Div. I. The mark ties Kam Radford for 10th all-time in program history.
"We had a lot of opportunities that we didn't capitalize on," Dennion said. "Me and (senior forward) Jenn (McGorty) both missed wide-open goals, but I feel like it could've been a 9-0 game; like we could've scored way more goals. But we did have opportunities. We just have to capitalize on the opportunities we get."
The sophomore tallied her first goal in the 11th minute, then again in the 14th minute to give the Phoenix an early 2-0 lead.
"It certainly helps when Nicole Dennion scores," Neal said. "She's certainly having a great year and we're happy for her."
In the 57th minute, Dennion scored her third goal to complete the hat trick after McGorty set up junior midfielder Marissa Russo on the right sideline. Russo crossed and found Dennion from nearly point-blank range. Dennion put her shot top-shelf to give the Phoenix the 3-0 lead.
Elon totaled 25 shots in the game, putting 15 of them on goal. Though scoring three goals, Neal was not happy with the second and third string of substitutes throughout the match.
"Our second and third phases of substitutes were just not professional when they came in," he said. "They came into a game we were really on top of winning 2-0 and they thought they were going to step on the field without putting any thought into it and make things happen and it was incredibly lackluster."
Neal did find the silver lining in the match, though, as the Phoenix now have a 5-1-2 record in conference play and sit two points behind Furman for first place in the conference standings with two games left to play.
"We didn't play well but when you don't play well and still win, that's a great night," Neal said. "But we got three points and we've got a lot of energy left for Sunday."
Elon welcomes Samford University to Rudd Field Sunday afternoon for Senior Day, as the Phoenix will honor their eight seniors before taking on the Bulldogs. Samford comes in with an overall 11-5-1 record, but the Bulldogs have struggled in conference play. Most recently, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro shutout the Bulldogs 3-0 Friday night in Greensboro, N.C.
"It feels great to be in the hunt," Dennion said. "I feel like we can pull this off. We each have two more games left. If one team gets a result out of them, we have a chance. We just have to play out our schedule and not worry."
Samford comes in battling with UNCG and Wofford College for the No. 4 spot in the SoCon tournament. The four-seed is the last team to host a first round game in the tournament before the final four teams converge on Spartanburg, S.C. for the tournament championships.
"We'll come out against them and pressure like we always do," Dennion said. "If we do that, hopefully we get a result."
Kick between the Phoenix and Bulldogs is set for 2 p.m.