This was probably just what Elon University had in mind when it made the move to the Colonial Athletic Association.
A late Friday afternoon women’s lacrosse game against a team from Long Island who brought fans to tailgate.
That sounds quintessential for the league, one based with teams up through the mid-Atlantic where lacrosse is a popular sport. Elon added women’s lacrosse a year before announcing its move to the CAA.
And the game showed, too, Elon has made the most of its inaugural venture into the league.
The Phoenix led for much of the way before falling 10-9 to league-leading Hofstra University on a goal with 0:51 left. The result was a tough one to swallow — head coach Josh Hexter blamed it on unforced turnovers — but it was a reflection of Elon’s growth in the CAA.
Weeks ago, Elon lost 12-2 to Towson University and 22-5 to James Madison University, two top teams in the CAA. Hofstra beat both.
The progress the Phoenix has made can be measured from the Hofstra result.
“We think we’re supposed to win now,” Hexter said. “These girls, in our second year [as a program], should have beaten Hofstra. We should have won that game. I think the biggest difference is they have found the courage to just believe they’re supposed to be great. That has made a huge difference.”
Elon was among the best in the Atlantic Sun last year, going 4-1 and earning the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament before losing in the semifinals.
It was a weird feeling for sure — spending the program’s first season a league it knew it was going to leave. The Phoenix looked past that, though, en route to some early success.
But the CAA is one of the better mid-major lacrosse conferences in the country, which presented a stark challenge for a program in its second year. Elon took some of those lumps early on.
The Phoenix offense excelled in its nonconference schedule, with freshman Stephanie Asher leading the way. She scored 45 goals, the most in the CAA.
Elon didn’t have as much success offensively in CAA play. After scoring at least 10 goals in seven nonconference games, the Phoenix never hit double figures in its six CAA games.
Regardless, the flow in Elon’s offensive sets has been fluid. Some sharp passes inside the key led to a number of one-timer goals against Hofstra.
“We’ve played like that all year,” Hexter said. “I think our offense is great... That’s what we can take away from this — we can compete with anybody so long as we don’t keep giving the other team so many chances.”
The offense adapted through playing against CAA defenses, an essential step in improving in the league. The wins weren’t all there yet — there was just one of them — but measurable progress was made. There’s not much more that could have or should have been asked.
“Overall, I think we played amazing,” said sophomore Molly Garrigan. “It showed us how far we can go, and how good we actually are. We learned what we’ve been through. We showed we’re supposed to be here in the CAA.”
It’s been two years of lacrosse now, and one in the CAA. Surely, it’s safe to say Elon is finding its niche.