The Elon University women’s soccer team was defeated 2-1 by Duke University in its first home game of the spring season. The Blue Devils, who finished last season ranked 18th in the nation, proved to be stiff competition for the Phoenix, which looks to these spring exhibition games to prepare for the move to the Colonial Athletic Association this fall.
“We’re trying to play a schedule now that’s as hard as possible,” Elon head coach Chris Neal said. “The idea is to take your team out of their comfort zone, see which players respond and which don’t.”
“It’s a completely different level,” freshman defender Kathryn Black said of the schedule. "It forces us to be on our A-game.”
This exhibition game featured three 30 minute periods, rather than the typical two 45 minute halves for regular season games. Both teams came out attacking from the opening whistle, making for an entertaining first period. Elon struck first, as sophomore midfielder Samantha Burch scored to put the Phoenix in front 1-0. Burch received a cross at the left side of the box from junior midfielder Marissa Russo and calmly lifted the ball over the head of the oncoming goalkeeper.
“Sam showed an extremely high level of composure by taking a touch, getting her head up and finding the gap,” Neal said.
The Blue Devils responded quickly, notching two goals in the final ten minutes of the period. The pace of the game slowed some in the second frame, as Elon’s defense was able to adjust to Duke’s athletic playmakers.
The game opened up more in the third period. Elon freshman goalkeeper Taylor Mohr came up with several impressive saves that kept Elon in the game.
“She got her chance tonight and I thought she definitely stood out,” freshman forward Hannah Howard said of the keeper’s performance.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix was able to play several dangerous through-balls during the final half-hour but was held by Duke’s defense and forced to settle for a 2-1 defeat.
“I thought we definitely put up a really good fight against a top-ranked team,” Howard said. “We were short on players, but everyone worked really hard.”
Throughout the course of the game, several Elon players moved around to different positions and the team experimented with one defensive midfielder rather than its typical two.
“Although being competitive and winning games is habitual, we like to try different things in the spring because the games don’t matter as much,” Neal said.
This loss dropped Elon to 1-2 on the spring season, with a win against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a loss against North Carolina State University.
Despite losing eight seniors from last season’s Southern Conference runner-up squad that finished 13-3-6, the Phoenix is optimistic about its transition next season to the CAA.
“It’s a lot of rebuilding after our seniors left, but we’re starting to figure out who plays best where,” Black said. “We’re getting the hang of things and we’re starting to trust each other a lot more as a team.”
The Phoenix will benefit from a strong recruiting class comprised of 10 rising freshmen who could make a real impact in the fall.
“The freshmen can all compete for playing time right away. There should be starters in that group,” Neal said.
Elon’s next games will be April 4 against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.