Last year, the Elon University men’s soccer team jumped out to the best start in school history, winning its first seven games — including a victory at then-top-ranked Wake Forest University — and soaring into the top 10 in national polls.

And though the Phoenix managed to capture the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) co-championship, it fell to University of Delaware on penalty kicks in the CAA semifinals. After a 3-0 win over Winthrop University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Elon’s season ended in disappointment with a 5-2 loss to Clemson University, the most goals the team had given up in a game since 2011.

“We started so brightly, but the feeling at the end of the season was one of despair and one of utter disappointment,” said junior defender Jonathan Coleby. “We thought we could do better and we just couldn’t get
it done.”

But according to redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Matthew Jegier, the team’s goals remain as lofty as ever, and it will use last year’s disappointment as motivation heading into the new season.

“Our goal is a national championship,” Jegier said. “We want to end the season on a win, and that’s the only way to do that. Obviously, [the Clemson game] wasn’t the way we wanted to end the season, and, hopefully, we can use our disappointment and experience from last year to take the next step forward.”

For Jegier, some of his motivation is coming from the CAA’s preseason poll, where Elon was predicted to finish third in the conference.

“Elon’s had a history of being underestimated and coming out and proving everyone wrong,” Jegier said. “It’s a little bit of a motivation. It’s a dagger to the heart that no one believes in us, but it’s a challenge, and we’re going to show them what we got.”

And though he said all games are important, Jegier said he has a circle in his calendar around Elon’s matchup with Hofstra University on Oct. 29.

“That game was a blow to the heart last year,” he said. “We play them at home, so I’m excited for that — especially because they are ranked first in the preseason polls. It’s a chance for us to show how good we really are.”

But Elon won’t have it easy. The team graduated 10 players, including its three leading goal scorers — Eduardo Alvarez ’16, James Brace ’16 and Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler ’16 — who combined to make almost half of the team’s goals and several key pieces in a defense that ranked first in the CAA in goals allowed and shutouts.

“We’ve lost a lot, but that’s the exciting thing about coaching in college,” said head coach Chris Little. “You get a new team every year, and we have lofty goals, but we’ve got a talented squad and a hardworking group of kids that are stepping up to try and achieve that.”

Among those that are going to be counted upon to step up will be sophomore forward Jaiden Fortune, who was fourth on the team with five goals as a freshman and led with six assists. For a team that lost almost 70 percent of its scoring from last season, he’ll be a key in making sure Elon’s offense doesn’t falter.

Also expected to compete for playing time are freshman defender Luke Matthews and freshman forward Tuki Tayali, a pair of 6-foot-4 imports from England who made a splash in camp over the spring and summer.

“They’ve given us competition and depth, which is what you want,” Little said. “Their job is to make it difficult for us when we’re picking the team and who’s in the rotation. They’re doing their part to make that

A big theme in the locker room is taking the program to the next level. After making the NCAA tournament in four of the past five seasons — including advancing to the second round in 2013 and 2015 — the Phoenix has its sights much higher.

“We hit the second round and got eliminated in the second round again, so that kind of sticks in your throat a little bit,” Little said. “We feel as though we failed. We never took the program forward, and that’s a hurdle we want to get over.”