The Elon University women’s soccer team took the field tonight with a different purpose. Tonight was their final spring practice match, a game against Belmont Abbey. Tonight’s game was in honor of former Elon player Nicole Dennion '16, who passed away in November at the age of 22 after a battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. 

In her time at Elon, Dennion earned Southern Conference Player of the Year honors in 2013 after scoring 15 goals that season and helping the Phoenix earn a runner-up finish in the SoCon Tournament. She was also the recipient of the Stein H. Basnight Outstanding Athlete Award, Elon’s highest athletics honor.

“She was the best player that I’ve ever stepped on the field with and the best player to ever put on an Elon jersey,” said Kate Murphy '15, former Elon soccer player and teammate of Dennion's. “She played with so much passion and so much pride and just had this way of inspiring everyone around her to work as hard as they possibly could. She made everyone around her better and want to work harder.”

Murphy said that when Dennion was diagnosed with cancer it was heartbreaking news, but the team knew that she was strong and would fight to the very end.

“You know ... it was obviously really tough for our team but it also really brought us together and brought us a lot closer and someone to rally around,” Murphy said. "I think it really gave and appreciation for the opportunity we had to play at this school and for this amazing program and for this team. We all really came out harder every single time that we stepped on that field to kind of honor her and the type of player that she was.”

For head coach Chris Neal, watching Dennion battle cancer was difficult, but it taught him something about life.

“I think that for anyone that was close to Nicole it was tough. It doesn’t matter if you’re the head coach or one of her friends,” he said. “But It was new to all of us and was difficult. We all learned a great deal about life and about relationships and who’s important to you and what’s important in life through that process.”

The Phoenix teamed up with the Vs. Cancer Foundation for Thursday night’s game. The organization is a nonprofit fundraising campaign for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Though Dennion didn’t have brain cancer, Neal said that it was a good way to honor Dennion and serve a good cause at the same time.

Prior to tonight’s matchup, the team had raised just under $7,000 for the fight against pediatric brain cancer. Murphy says that having events like this are not only special for the players, but also for the community and the school as a whole.

“It’s really cool to be part of a program that you feel so connected to and want to come back and support this team and support the girls that I didn’t even necessarily play with,” she said. “But to know that we are part of something so special and [Dennion] and her legacy really connected this team and I think it will forever.”