For the past three seasons, former Elon University men’s soccer goalkeeper Nathan Dean ’15 played all but five minutes of action in net for the Phoenix. After starting 11 matches in his freshman year, Dean became the rock at the back of Elon’s defense starting in each of the team’s 64 matches from 2012-14.
Head coach Chris Little must now find a new keeper, after the Liverpool native graduated. With two returning goalkeepers, in redshirt freshman Matthew Jegier and redshirt junior Christopher Shannon, and new recruits freshmen Jimmy Coyle and Julian Dean, the competition is wide open.
Little said he is in no hurry to make a decision and may not make up his mind until the first game of the season. He said he wants to give the players the time and opportunity to prove themselves and claim the starting spot for themselves.
“We have good competition there, so we’re excited to see how it’ll unfold,” Little said. “That spot has to be earned.”
Little has been impressed with the goalkeeper play since Dean’s departure. The results from the spring schedule seem to back that up.
“We played a very talented schedule in the spring,” Little said. “We kept clean sheets against Wake Forest [University], [University of] Virginia and [University of North Carolina at] Charlotte and those are all top 20 teams in the country.”
The Phoenix also held Spanish fourth-division side Unio Jabac i Terrasa scoreless in a 2-0 win during its Spring Break trip to Spain.
Shannon was given the opportunity to play significant minutes during the spring. Little was impressed with Shannon as he made the most of his extended run in the starting lineup in the spring, looking just as sharp as the rest of the defense.
“The response of the group that was here in the spring was very good,” Little said. “Defensively, we were very pleased with the concepts and the things we were doing.”
Shannon said having four goalkeepers creates a much better training experience, though, he too is looking forward to battling for the starting spot.
“It’ll be great to push each other with the competition,” he said. “It’s something for everyone to fight for.”
Shannon’s first look at the new goalkeepers came during a captain’s practice a few days before official training begun and has been impressed ever since.
Coyle, a New Hope, Pennsylvania native, comes to Elon from prep-school powerhouse The Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He recorded 17 shutouts in his first season and won the national championship with Berkshire in 2014.
Seattle native Julian Dean comes from Seattle Waldorf School and was a member of the Crossfire Premiere U18 Academy team. He was named the Northwest National Club Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year for the 2013-14 season.
Senior right back Nathan Diehl said he hasn’t seen a favorite emerge after the first few training sessions but doesn’t expect the defense to suffer with three of the four starting defenders returning this season. Diehl, along with senior Sam McBride and sophomore Johnathan Coleby, returns to the Phoenix side that recorded nine shutouts last season.
Coleby started all 19 matches for Elon in his rookie season, as well as leading the team in minutes played for an outfield player with 1800. McBride, a three-year starter for the Phoenix, started and appeared in 17 matches in 2014.
Diehl said the goalkeeper competition among the players can be contagious, causing everyone in the squad to be more intense in the early part of the season.
“It’s a battle, but it’s a battle that will develop their skills in the long run,” he said.