It didn't feel like 2013, but perhaps Elon University preferred this result.

Little drama, little worry. There weren't many nervous fans among the 2,419 who watched the men's soccer team defeat Winthrop University 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday at Rudd Field.

Far, far from the atmosphere at the same field in November 2013 when the Phoenix advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament by winning a penalty shootout against Clemson University, a game watched by 3,348.

"I think there's definitely a different feel to it," said senior midfielder James Brace, who played in the Clemson game. "But nonetheless, it's a special win.

"As a program going forward in the next few years, this is what the program needs to be doing — hosting national tournament games."

Elon took the 1-0 lead on Brace's goal in the 34th minute, and the only real challenge it faced was a 10-minute stretch during the second half, when redshirt freshman goalkeeper Matthew Jegier made three big saves to keep the Phoenix in the lead.

Aside from that? Little drama, little worry.

Then senior midfielder Eduardo Alvarez scored in the 79th, and senior forward Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler scored in the 86th, the insurance Elon didn't need but surely liked.

Little drama, little worry, with three seniors scoring the three goals.

Signs of an experienced team with many players who have played at such a stage before.

"We're showing a mentality that we're not going to lose," Brace said. "We're showing we can match defensively. When we're on the counter, we're quick, we're dangerous. There's definitely a mentality to defend."

Elon did what it's done best all year — defend well and look to its best offensive players to make plays.

And in doing that, the Phoenix eliminated a team that ran the gamut last week in the Big South Tournament.

Now, fittingly, Elon faces Clemson once again — this time on the road, so the Phoenix won't be able to snuggle into the cozy abode of Rudd Field when it plays the Tigers Sunday.

Elon reaped those benefits Thursday night, as cheers of "I believe that we will win" erupted from the bleachers with less than 10 minutes to play.

"The crowd was incredible, the atmosphere was good," said Elon coach Chris Little. "It was a really good college soccer game."

But not like 2013, and maybe that's just another sign of progress for Elon.


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