The Elon University women’s soccer team opened up its 2014 season in winning fashion with a 2-0 victory against Jacksonville State University.
Freshman forward Grace Bennett scored her first collegiate goal and junior defender Mel Insley scored a beautiful free kick from 40 yards out to seal the victory for the Phoenix.
Elon’s first chance of the season came from a cross from senior forward Raychel Diver, but the ball was cleared away nicely for a throw-in. The Phoenix managed its first shot of the match after stealing the ball away from Jacksonville State on its own end. The ball came to sophomore midfielder Kelly Siewers at the edge of the 18-yard box, but the shot lacked enough muster to beat the Gamecocks goalkeeper.
Elon opened the scoring with its next chance 9:23 into the match. Bennett outmuscled her defender, winning a long ball from Elon’s defense. Bennett turned, beat her defender and finished past the keeper into the bottom right corner of the goal.
“I came up a little dry the first couple (pre-season) games and I told myself before this game, ‘I have to finish,’” Bennett said. “I use the goal as an icebreaker. Now it’s just (score) as many more in as I can.”
For Elon head coach Chris Neal, it was only a matter of time before Bennett would end up on the score sheet. Bennett caught Neal’s eye throughout the preseason, having arrived in great shape and continuing to impress in practice.
“You love to see players like that put in the work and get rewarded,” Neal said.
Jacksonville State senior forward Lindsey Jackson responded with two shots of her own, but neither troubled Elon’s first-half goalkeeper, junior Sydney Branson.
The Phoenix continued to attack, with the majority of the play occurring in Elon’s attacking end. Bennett had a couple more chances to add to her goal tally, but neither wound up in the back of the net.
“The movement from everyone was really exceptional, especially on the right hand side (with) people getting in the box,” Bennett said.
Bennett and her teammates caused havoc down the right side.
“That was the players making decisions,” Neal said. “They realized it was working and they stuck with it. They saw something on the right had side they knew they could exploit and they went with it.”
But the most any of the chances resulted in was a corner kick.
“It’s not a good feeling as a coach when you’re dominating the score sheet, you have all the play and you’re only up a goal,” Neal said.
As the second half opened up, Elon was unable to maintain what they achieved in the opening 45 minutes.
Jacksonville State’s Lindsey Jackson should have leveled the scoring in the opening minutes, but her half-volley sailed high of the crossbar.
Siewers could have put the Phoenix up two, but her shot was blocked by a pair of Jacksonville State defenders and slowed the ball down enough for freshman Caroline Robinson to make the save.
Elon finally managed its second goal after a tremendous effort from Insley. After being awarded a free kick, Insley drilled it past the crowed box and past the keeper for a goal.
“She strikes the ball a ton. We knew it was coming at some point,” Neal said.
Insley missed all of last season with an ACL injury, but was able to use her instinct from practice to score.
“We practiced free kicks yesterday…so I just thought about practice yesterday and how to strike the ball. I was thrilled it went in,” Insley said.
Insley also played her part at the heart of Elon’s defense, helping keep a clean sheet in her 86 minutes on the pitch.
“It felt so good,” Insley said. “Even if you don’t feel you had the best game as a defense…to know you didn’t allow the other team to score, it’s extremely rewarding.”
Branson had two saves while playing the first half. Senior Kate Murphy came in for the second half and stopped one shot.
The Phoenix will return to Rudd Field on Sunday, Aug. 24 when it hosts Appalachian State University at 2 p.m.