The scene was depressing, with blank stares across many Elon University men’s soccer players’ faces as they coped with their loss to Northeastern University in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament.
Their chances at a fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth had all but disappeared.
Without a doubt, that loss still stings. Even though the most accomplished senior class in program history is gone, the Phoenix has a slew of returners, including seven seniors. That loss now rides with them.
It’s on the shoulders of James Brace, the always-smiling England native who led the team in goals last year. Same with Miguel Salazar, hailing from Mexico, who had a knack for scoring some wild goals last season.
It’s on Nathan Diehl, the long-haired defenseman from Birmingham, Alabama, who figures to anchor the backline this year. And on Caue Da Silva, the quick Brazil native, who isn’t afraid to try a bicycle kick.
Most importantly, it sits on head coach Chris Little to help his team move past it.
In a way, the loss to Northeastern might have been an appropriate wake-up call for Elon. Nothing was going to be handed to the Phoenix in the CAA, and conjuring up a last-second miracle — or two or three — just wasn’t plausible.
It also could’ve taken some pressure off the team, which assuredly was thinking of upholding its legacy when the postseason rolled around last year. That added weight is gone this year.
The upperclassmen will hold onto the memories from those NCAA Tournament seasons, but having a fresh start with an incoming group won’t hurt.
There’s really nothing to be ashamed of from last season. Elon faced stiff competition in the CAA and handled it well. The Phoenix beat the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, which was ranked for much of the year, on the road. With one week left in the regular season, Elon controlled its own destiny and was in the mix to host the CAA semifinals and championship.
Then, a tie with James Madison University, a narrow victory over cellar-dweller College of Charleston and a 2-1 loss to University of Delaware dropped Elon into a quarterfinal game.
James Madison, which was picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, ended up winning the CAA Tournament and earning the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid. That alone speaks to the parity of the league.
It’ll surely be the same way this year.
The loss to Northeastern hurt so much because the Phoenix beat the Huskies 5-0 earlier in the season. Maybe it’s a lesson in not taking a team lightly based on a previous result.
Regardless, the loss is nothing Elon should be dwelling on. Use it as some extra motivation, sure. But don’t make it a point of emphasis.
It’s a new year, one that brings with it a lot of potential with the returners. With that core, it’s not unrealistic to strive for starting a new dynasty.
And if that falls into place, the ending won’t be so tough.