As the fall athletics seasons near November, that means one thing: Southern Conference Tournament time.
Elon University has turned its eyes on Rudd Field and the Elon men’s and women’s soccer teams, who both hold stellar records, are both ranked and are looking to make a lot of noise in the respective tournaments.
Currently, the men sit at 12-4-1 this season and are coming off a 2-1 win against No. 5 Coastal Carolina University. The women finished 11-2-6 this season and were put in the NSCAA Regional rankings Tuesday, Oct. 29, for the first time since moving to Div. I and the Southern Conference.
The women’s soccer team locked up the No. 2 seed in the SoCon Tournament after tying with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Wednesday, Oct. 30. Furman University locked up the championship with a 7-1-1 record in conference Sunday, Oct. 27 with a 3-1 victory against Davidson College.
The only loss Furman has suffered this season came at the hands of the Phoenix Oct. 13 on Rudd Field.
The lone loss the Phoenix suffered in conference came at the hands of The Citadel. Elon beat or tied every other team in conference play. The fun fact: The Citadel didn’t make the SoCon Tournament, as only the top eight teams make the tournament. Of those left out, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who lost all 10 games in conference this year, The Citadel and defending tournament champion Georgia Southern University.
On the final day of the regular season, Western Carolina University beat Appalachian State and Georgia Southern lost to Davidson College to fall out of the top eight.
Elon has shown the poise all season to be very successful. The record shows that. But there’s a troubling fact that could signal a letdown in the tournament is on the horizon.
How Elon wins the SoCon Tournament
Elon has scored 51 goals in 19 games this season. That’s more than double the total from a season ago when the Phoenix scored 23 goals and finished with a 6-8-6 record.
Sophomore forward Nicole Dennion scored 13 of those goals. That tally finished one ahead of Furman sophomore forward Stephanie DeVita for the most goals in the conference. As recently against Samford University Sunday, Oct. 27, the Bulldogs’ defense needed two defenders to slow Dennion, which left opportunities for others in dangerous areas deep in the opponents territory. The presence of Dennion on Elon’s high-powered offense is enough to help the Phoenix scratch out goals, even if it’s not her scoring.
All year, the Phoenix were solid defensively, anchored by senior captain Olivia Mackey. Though junior goalkeeper Kate Murphy went down with an injury with four games remaining in the season, backup goalkeeper Sydney Branson and the Phoenix did not skip a beat. In Branson’s four starts, the Phoenix went 2-0-2. Only allowing 24 goals on the season, the Phoenix averaged allowing 1.26 goals per game and finished with six shutouts on the year.
Elon was not shut out this season and the offense has rolled from the opening match against Coastal Carolina University back in August. With a defense averaging 1.26 goals allowed per game and the offense scoring 2.68 goals per game, it’s become clear the offense will score at some point or another, which helped the Phoenix to only dropping two contests all season. The goal scoring will not change even though there’s more on the line in postseason play.
If for some reason the offense is not finding chances and getting the goals, head coach Chris Neal has a bailout plan to the tune of double-digit subs on his bench that he can mix and match to squeeze out goals. Four players scored five or more goals this season for the Phoenix. The finishers are there and Neal has options should the opposing defenses shut down one particular player.
How Elon loses in the SoCon Tournament
It’s been an issue all season long. The Phoenix battled Chattanooga and won 3-0 at home on Rudd Field. Other teams like Furman and Samford beat the Mocs 9-0 and 7-1, respectively. When Elon took on Greensboro College on Sept. 5 and won 3-0 against the Div. III Pride. That’s not a good sign.
The two losses for the Phoenix came against The Citadel, who finished 10th of 11 in the conference with a 3-7 mark in SoCo play and a 5-11-2 mark overall, and Longwood University of the Big South Conference.
What explains this? Elon plays down to different opponent’s levels. On the flip side, Elon plays up to better team’s levels, but playing down is an issue and it could bite the Phoenix in the first round against the No. 7 Davidson Wildcats.
Though Elon beat Davidson 4-2 on Oct. 20, the chance to play down to a team’s level is a dangerous factor and a very real one for the Phoenix. It’s been proven multiple times this season and it’s the one thing that will derail Elon’s SoCon Tournament championship hopes.
Elon has the talent to win the SoCon Tournament and could make noise in the NCAA Tournament as a result. A deep, well-coached team like Elon always does. But can they get past a lower Davidson team without being knocked out?