The 2019 Elon University Phoenix men’s soccer team welcomed 11 freshmen into their squad. This follows the departure of four members in 2018. The graduates included Jack Willbye, Amir Berekane, Marcel Fahrenolz, and most notably, Matthew Jegier. 

Jegier was Elon’s starting goalkeeper since 2015 as a redshirt freshman. His accolades seemed to keep coming after being named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s (CAA) All-Rookie Team. Throughout his career at Elon, he became the program’s all-time career shutout leader, led the CAA in goals allowed on average (GAA) in 2017 and was named to the first team All-CAA in 2017, to name a few of them.

“He did seem like he’d been there for a while,” said head coach Marc Reeves. “He waited and was patient to get in and then when he got in, he did an unbelievable amount for our group on and off the field.”

Lucky for Reeves, he has two veteran keepers as well as one freshman goalkeeper to fill Jegier’s shoes. 

“Last year, we had three players redshirt and one’s in the mix to be our starting goalkeeper,” Reeves said.

Moving on from the past

The Phoenix finished last season with a 5-8-2 record, recording a seven-game winless streak before beating College of Charleston 2-0. They’re under .500 record stuck with Reeves, who’s been the coach for the Phoenix since 2017.

“Having been in successful programs for the 20 years I’ve been coaching, yeah it hurts a lot more. I’ve only been under .500, I think twice in 23 years, which is something I’m really thankful for. But it stings more when it goes wrong,” Reeves said. 

The team did not make it into the playoffs with their losing record, something Reeves intends to improve on this year. 

“It’s a terrible record and it’s not good enough in the CAA,” Reeves said. “We’re really focused on this year, we’re confident that we’re going in with the right attitude, you know, right mentality that this is this year, this is this group, this is a new process.”

Senior Luke Matthews, a defender, also had a positive outlook about how his last season would go. 

“So we’ve done a lot, defending wise, just making sure we’re strong at the back sort of building from the back and working forward. Then the last week or so we’ve worked on sort of transitioning and attacking patterns, so if we put that all together, I think that’d be a really good, good start for us,” Matthews said.

Field of freshmen

This year, Reeves roster is exactly one third freshmen. “We needed a big class because we have ten that go in December,” Reeves said. “When those 10 seniors move on, we need 10 guys to step right up and be there. So we’ll bounce off the class a little bit, probably be down to six or so next season.”

Matthews was also part of a large recruiting class, so he is used to the feeling of adjusting to new faces and new voices. 

“They set in really well,” Matthews said. “I think we had about 11 or 12 freshmen when I came in, so another situation they’re coming into and some really strong talent coming in as well.” 

Reeves said that while he was impressed with the freshmen, he said he doesn’t want to jump the gun in rating them. 

“The new guys have come in good shape and seemed to be adapting well, but college soccer is a little different. It’s a step up in speed and physicality and the tempo of the game is so fast because of all the different roles,” Reeves said. “I never really express my thoughts on freshmen too early, because they can come in the first couple of days and look great, and then the legs can go a little bit wobbly and some guys take a few more days to settle in and really rise up a little bit.”

Staying focused

Along with being Division I athletes, the players on the men’s soccer team also have to learn to balance their athletic requirements with their scholarly ones. Reeves said that while this group is very focused, a challenge that the team will face is learning how to balance everything going on in their lives. 

“The challenge always in college soccer is remaining as healthy as you can and remaining as focused as you can. When classes start and the campus gets busy, I think we’ve got a very serious group of very focus groups, but that’s always a challenge,” Reeves said. “The continual recovery region of getting guys healthy and having them perform, because college soccer puts a lot of minutes on your legs in a short space of time. It’s a lot of games to get going there.”

For Matthews, his greatest concern for the team is consistency. 

“I think we started start off really well last year and then sort of tailed off towards the end,” Matthews said. “If we can just stay healthy and sort of keep working throughout the whole year, I think that’d be good for us.”

Best qualities

Zach Ohmann | Elon News Network
Elon men's soccer celebrates a goal in an exhibition match against Campbell University on Aug. 24.

Though there are challenges that the Phoenix will face both on and off the field, the mix of new players and veteran ones is something Matthews said will benefit the team in the long run.

“We’ve got a good mixture of older players and younger players that are sort of just adding freshness,” Matthews said.

For Reeves, he praised the discipline his team was already showing. 

“Yeah, I’m hoping as always we’re disciplined, I’m hoping, you know, that the defense is set up, we do not give away too many goals,” Reeves said. “Our strength, the hope is, is our resilience and our depth to be a unified group that no matter who’s playing, we’re really one firm fist going after it.”

Goal in mind

The Phoenix’s next two matchups will be a part of the John Rennie/Nike Classic in Durham, North Carolina where they will face off against the California State University-Bakersfield Roadrunners and the Furman University Paladins. Last year the Phoenix split their two games, losing to the University of Vermont Catamounts and winning against the Florida International University Panthers. 

They will have two more games after that before their first CAA matchup against school rival James Madison University. Last year, the Phoenix pulled off an upset over the CAA tournament victors, 1-0, with a goal from alumnus Jack Willbye. The game winning goal was the only goal Willbye scored in 2018, and only the second he had scored in his career. 

Looking even further down the line, Matthews and Reeves both agreed that the team was going to take it day by day.

“I think just got build up slowly,” Matthews said. “Hopefully we can keep developing and get strong towards the end of the season and [the tournament] be where we end up.”

Reeves added that he wanted to pull out the maximum potential for this group.

“There’s been some groups that maybe weren’t that great and overachieved, there’s been some groups I thought were good, and maybe they got knocked out in the Elite Eight, and they really should have been a Final Four team,” Reeves said. “So, the idea is to get as high up as possible in the CAA. That’s our number one goal.”