CLEMSON, S.C. — The Elon University men's soccer team lost to Clemson University 5-2 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, ending the season for a team at times uncertain to make it this far.
The two teams last met in the first-round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, when the Phoenix knocked off Clemson in penalty kicks after regulation finished tied 1-1. On the season this year, the Phoenix finished with a record 14-16-1, an improvement compared to last year's 9-6-4 finish.
The Tigers were led by senior forward T.J. Casner, who scored a goal in each half. His second goal, which he scored off of a loose ball from a free kick, gave Clemson its first 3-goal lead of the match.
Elon responded immediately thanks to freshman forward Jaiden Fortune, who finished sophomore midfielder Luis Argudo's long pass for a goal less than a minute after Casner's second goal.
The final three goals came bunched together over just nine minutes, as Elon senior forward Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler’s goal was sandwiched in between two Clemson goals.
After the match, Phoenix head coach Chris Little spoke highly of the Tigers, even as he recognized his team’s shortcomings.
“They’re just a really good team,” Little said. “I think two goals in the first half were two incredible finishes, so you go two goals down. Then, we kind of made some silly mistakes on the goals, but I’m obviously proud of the way the kids fought back and kept fighting to the end. They never stopped, not until the very last whistle.”
The season ends in the second round for the Phoenix, which could be considered a disappointment after the start Elon got. The Phoenix defeated Wake Forest University en route to a 7-game winning streak to start the season. Elon was ranked as high as tenth nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) during the season.
Elon’s 10 seniors finished their career with two trips to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, with the other coming in 2013. The storied group earned Elon’s first NCAA Tournament victory ever against Winthrop University Nov. 19, and Little had mixed emotions about seeing the group leave.
“That’s the hardest thing with college sports — you see these young men come into their career in their time with the program,” Little said. “You feel the sadness, but at the same time, just so proud of them and what they’ve done for our program and repping our university. They’ve been so successful, and they’ve taken our program to a new echelon, really.
“It’s sad that you wont be able to work with them anymore, but excited that I know they’re terrific young men with bright futures. I’m excited to see what happens next for them.”
The Phoenix have earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament four out of the last five years.
Hartmann reported from Clemson, and Simon reported from Redwood City, California.