The Elon University men’s soccer team traveled to Greenville, S.C., last week for the Southern Conference Tournament having escaped an upset bid from Appalachian State University in the first round on penalty kicks. They hoped to win a third-straight SoCon championship and take the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament that came with it.
The players readied themselves for Georgia Southern University, who upset the second-seeded University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the first round. They weren’t a team the Phoenix could overlook. As it turned out, there was no need for concern. Elon scored two goals in the game’s first 15 minutes and never looked back, pounding the Eagles 5-1 and advancing to the championship game against Wofford College.
“We’re always trying to score goals,” said head coach Darren Powell. “But it’s all about creating chances and executing when you have them. [Against GSU], when we had those moments, we executed well, and it’s very nice when that happens early in a game.”
The five goals, a season high, gave an already confident team even more reason to believe in its ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
“It gives you confidence whenever you hit the back of the net that often. There’s no question about that,” Powell said. “We wanted to get a lot of opportunities in front of the goal and we did.”
After a quick celebration, the Phoenix had to regroup and refocus for the championship match against the Wofford Terriers. By then, the Phoenix had become familiar with quick turnarounds, senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz said, having played in two in-season tournaments earlier in the year with similar schedules to the conference tournament.
“Darren puts a schedule together so that we can plan out weekends like this with short turnarounds,” Lovitz said. “At the Duke [University] tournament and the Wilmington [N.C.] tournament, there were quick turnarounds and we went undefeated at those tournaments. So we were confident.”
The game, played in a driving rain and in front of a pro-Wofford crowd, remained scoreless until Phoenix junior forward Jason Waterman took a through pass from sophomore forward Caue Da Silva and put the ball in the back of the net in double overtime.
“To score that goal, it was an amazing feeling,” Waterman said. “Holding the trophy and wearing this [championship] ring, it’s amazing.”
With the win, Elon became only the second team in Southern Conference history to three-peat in the league’s postseason tournament.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” Lovitz said. “To get the third one in a row, it’s really hard to wrap your head around. But we’re thrilled, we’re really happy.”
The Phoenix gathered for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Monday afternoon knowing there was no way they could be left off the board.
“It definitely let us all sleep better in our beds,” Powell said. “We didn’t have to worry about the what-ifs or what might happen. All we were certain of is that we’re in that national tournament.”
Overall, Elon went 15-4-2 this season with a 4-2 record in conference and now heads to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s incredible,” Lovitz said. “We just keep setting new bars for achievement and this is something we’ve achieved as a team through hard work. This is all just amazing for us.”