The chances were there for the Elon University women’s soccer team. Countless near misses went just wide of goal or into the waiting hands of Furman University goalkeeper Rose Hull.
Aided by two goals in the final 11 minutes of the Southern Conference Tournament finals Sunday, Nov. 10, Furman defeated the Phoenix 3-1 to sweep both the regular season and conference tournament titles this season.
“In the second half at the second TV timeout, there was no doubt in my mind we were going to win the game,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “We were on top of them at that point. Our kids seemed to have fresher legs. I would’ve bet a whole lot of money that we were going to win. In a tight game like that, it comes down to who is going to make the play. India Robinson scored a phenomenal goal from long range. That made us chase the game with 10 minutes to play.”
Elon dominated from the start of the match and by the first media timeout had a 6-2 advantage on shots, but sophomore forward Stephanie DeVita found the back of the net in the 20th minute from 15 yards out to give the Paladins a 1-0 lead.
“Their first half goal was scored totally against the run of play,” Neal said.
Having dominated play early, the Phoenix pulled even in the 24th minute on a goal from senior forward Jennifer McGorty. She scored on a rebound on a save Hull originally made.
Furman tried to regain the lead on multiple chances after the goal, but Elon sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Branson held strong to keep the game tied at 1 into halftime.
With both teams having chances in the first 30 minutes of the second half, Elon junior goalkeeper Kate Murphy, who relieved Branson at halftime, and Hull kept the game tied until junior midfielder India Robinson tallied from 28 yards out as the ball sailed over Murphy’s outstretched hands.
“Down a goal, I've seen Furman play enough with less than 10 minutes to play,” Neal said. “They're going to get that ball to the corner and with India Robinson's foot on it, it's going to be tough to get back.”
Pushing for the equalizer, a bad bounce off an Elon defender and past Murphy for the insurance tally in the 85th minute to all but finish off the Phoenix.
“Unfortunately when we were pushing forward, they caught us again with a late one off a real bad deflection,” Neal said. “It was a ball that got so badly deflected it spun outside the goal frame then back in. It was weird. At that point, you know it’s just not your day.”
The Phoenix finishes the season with an overall record of 13-3-6. For the first time in program history, Elon scored at least one goal in each of its 22 games this season.
Having reached the conference championship match, it’s the first time Elon had reached the final since entering the Southern Conference. Elon will leave the Southern Conference without ever winning a SoCon regular season title or tournament title, as the Phoenix will enter the Colonial Athletic Association next season.
“We played 22 games and lost three,” Neal said. “It was a year of a lot of firsts for our team. I’m just incredibly proud of this entire group and what they accomplished. But not only what they accomplished, but how they went about it. We played our style. This is the first year we have not changed our package from game one to game 22. We played extremely well. We came out extremely well and we tried to set the pace and tempo and take that to the other team and we accomplished that. It wasn’t just about the 13 wins or the three losses. This team was entertaining to watch. They enjoyed themselves. They were just a pleasure to coach and we’re really going to miss our eight seniors.”
With the win, Furman earned the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Paladins will find out who their first round matchup will be against this week in the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
SoCon Player of the Year Nicole Dennion finishes the season with 15 goals for the Phoenix. With the goal Sunday, DeVita pulled into a tie with Dennion for the most goals on the season by a SoCon player.