The Elon University women’s soccer team’s 2-0 victory against Gardner-Webb University Friday, Sept. 19 was more than the team’s fourth win of the season.
It was head coach Chris Neal’s 100th career victory as a head coach.
Neal said he was not distracted during the match, and his focus was simply on winning.
The players also knew, and when the final whistle blew, Neal was honored with a bath of ice water.
“We knew tonight was going to be his 100th win,” said junior midfielder Taylor Glenn. “We went into it with a game plan and water was the way to go.”
Neal won his first 36 matches as the men’s coach at Pfeiffer University between 1998 and 2000, where he gave the Falcons their first-ever Division II ranking.
After a spell as an assistant at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Neal took the Elon job, where he is now in his seventh year.
“When I first got here seven years ago, I was new, the players were new, everything was new,” Neal said. “But now the relationships are firm, and this is a family.”
Neal’s intent was to turn the program around in his first season at the helm. The Phoenix went 8-8-3 in 2008, giving Elon its first .500 record since 1999. In his second season, Neal led the Phoenix to 12 wins, the most since moving to the Division I ranks.
From the day senior defender Bethany Houpt signed on to play for Neal, she knew she was with a special program.
“Coming in as a freshman, we were already playing really good teams,” she said. “Throughout the four years here, it’s been so consistent. We just continued to grow stronger mentally, physically and it’s been a dramatic difference over the years.”
Neal has created a winning tradition behind the framework of a strong team, not individuals.
“He’s really there for us and makes us understand how we each have a specific role on the team and we’re all there to make it a team effort every game,” Glenn said. “He expects a lot out of us and we give him a lot [in return].”