The signs were promising for the Elon University women’s soccer team as it began Colonial Athletic Association play. The Phoenix had won three straight matches, and junior midfielder Alissa Pantuosco put Elon ahead in the 10th minute of its first CAA game against preseason conference favorite Hofstra University.
The Phoenix would come crashing down to reality as the Pride scored four unanswered goals to snag the win. It only got tougher for Elon as defending conference champion Northeastern University came to Rudd Field less than 48 hours later. Elon kept the match scoreless for the opening half hour, but the Huskies went on to score four goals of their own en route to their second conference win of the season.
“Just because we didn’t take points off of both Hofstra and Northeastern, arguably the best two teams in the conference, does not mean that we can’t make the conference tournament,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal.
Neither junior defender Mel Insley or senior defender Bethany Houpt played against Northeastern because of knee injuries. Both are typically starters.
After playing two of the toughest teams Elon will face for the rest of the season, this weekend served as a valuable lesson moving forward.
“We learned that putting in the hard effort isn’t enough,” said sophomore midfielder Rachel Hallman. “We have to finish the chances we get, because we’re only going to get a few.”
Despite the optimistic outlook on the remainder of the season, the Phoenix still has a couple of question marks — goalkeeping, scoring and defending set pieces.
Neal said set pieces are the difference between winning and losing a CAA match.
“We try to take a lot of pride in defending and attacking corner kicks,” he said. “Scoring on set pieces, if you’re going to be successful in the CAA, is a must. Conceding them is something you must not do.”
While some teams resort to complicated set piece routines to trick the opposing defenses, the Phoenix has taken a different approach.
“We’ve tried to simplify things as much as possible for the players,” Neal said. “The first thing that has to be good is service. If the service is erratic, it makes everything else difficult.”
In addition, Neal wants the team not to give up if the first option doesn’t yield a goal.
“The thing about our corner kicks specifically that needs to improve is the second-phase part of the corner kick,” Neal said. “We don’t necessarily have to score off the initial header or volley, but we have to do a better job of keeping it alive.”
Between the pipes, Elon has yet to find a goalkeeper to nail down the starting role. The Phoenix has used a two-goalkeeper system dating back to last year with junior Sydney Branson playing the first half and senior Kate Murphy, a reporter for The Pendulum, playing the second half.
“We’ve been giving up a lot of goals, so it’s not different to a field player situation,” Neal said. “It was my hope either Kate or Sydney would perform and take a hold of the starting role, but that never materialized.”
Against Northeastern, a third goalkeeper was thrown into the mix, freshman Hanna Macaulay. The San Diego native played all 90 minutes, having previously played sparingly against West Virginia University and Francis Marion University.
“With us giving up goals and with a freshman who had a great week of training, she deserved her chance to play just like anybody else on the team,” Neal said.
The Phoenix will have a third chance to get its first CAA win on Friday when they travel to take on the College of Charleston. The Phoenix will then face the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on Sunday.
“We might be upset, but we’ll come out next weekend with wins, and our confidence will be right back up,” Hallman said.