The Elon University women’s soccer team fell to in-state rival Appalachian State University on Sunday, Aug. 24 by a score of 3-1.
Appalachian State University junior defender Merlin Beckwith scored twice and freshman defender Lindsey Tully added one of her own as the Mountaineers downed their former Southern Conference rivals.
Junior defender Julie Hibberd gave the Phoenix a consolation goal in the last minute of play, but it was too little too late.
“Physically I thought we stood up to the test for the most part,” Neal said. “I was really happy with what I saw from (the player’s) motors.”
Neal made no changes to the starting lineup that defeated Jacksonville State University Friday, but the Phoenix struggled out of the gate.
“(We lacked) composure on the ball,” senior forward Raychel Diver said. “We were working hard defensively, but once we got (the ball), we weren’t able to keep it.”
Elon was unable to string passes together, and found itself doing a lot of tracking back and defending.
“We weren’t able to slow down after pressuring so hard,” Diver said. “Just connecting that last pass is what we need to do.”
Junior goalkeeper Sydney Branson, who played the first half for the second straight game, was called into action early for the Phoenix. Appalachian State junior forward Samantha Childress went up for a header off a cross, but Branson came in strong off her line to punch the ball away. Childress would later be ruled offside.
“I was trying to be really aggressive,” Branson said.
Since the end of last season, Branson has been splitting time with senior captain and senior reporter for The Pendulum, Kate Murphy. But Branson sees her teammate as a partner in goal rather than competition.
“I would rather play the whole game, but at the end of the day it’s nice to be able to split time with Kate and always depend on her and she can depend on me,” Branson said.
Around 18 minutes into the match, Appalachian State threatened to score once more. Senior midfielder Kristie Fleger’s cross from the right wing went inches over the head of the oncoming senior forward Julia Holz. Minutes later, Holz had another chance to open the scoring. Childress passed to Holz on the left side of the box, but her low shot went right into the hands of Branson. Despite not registering a single shot in the first half, the Phoenix found itself level at zero.
Sophomore midfielder Kelly Siewers nearly gave Elon the lead in the opening minutes of the second half. Junior defender Mel Insley’s free kick from close to midfield went just beyond the outstretched leg of Siewers and out for a goal kick.
At the 51:19 mark, Tulley played in Beckwith between the Phoenix back line and finished past Murphy. Soon after at 58:52, Tully snagged a goal of her own. The defender rose high and headed home a senior defender Nicole Steyl corner kick to give Appalachian State a two goal cushion.
“We didn’t defend well on (that) set piece,” Diver said. “It was just a bad situation.”
To Neal, conceding a goal off a set piece after failing to score on one of their own was devastating.
“We take a lot of pride in how we defend set pieces,” Neal said “For them to score on their first corner after we had seven or eight was a double whammy.”
Beckwith bagged her second of the afternoon with a sublime finish at 61:36. After the ball bounced around on the edge of Elon’s 18 yard box, Beckwith’s curled effort drifted over Murphy and into the back of the net. In a span of a little more than 10 minutes, Elon conceded three goals.
“We could have done a better job of making sure we didn’t get down on ourselves,” Diver said. “It’s a long game and we could have gotten right back at them.”
“We bounced (her) around for a couple of years. She hasn’t really found a home in the lineup,” Neal said. “She came on and has been working her tail off and got her first goal.”
Hibberd’s goal continues Elon’s streak of 24 matches without being shut out.
The Phoenix will return to Rudd Field on Friday, Aug. 29 when the Clemson University Tigers come to town. It will be a bit of a homecoming for Branson, as she takes on the team she was a part of for her freshman year.
“It’s going to be very competitive for me, really personal,” Branson said.
The match is scheduled for 7 p.m.