Updated August 20, 2021 at 8:02 p.m. to include video footage.

In her first two seasons on Elon University’s women’s soccer team, junior forward Molly Mahoney had never scored a goal. In the first game of her third season, however, she wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. 

In Elon’s season opener against the George Washington University Colonials on Aug. 19, Mahoney scored the team’s first goal of the season in the 39th minute to give the Phoenix a 1-0 lead. The team went on to win the match 2-0, with Mahoney’s goal ultimately serving as the game winner.

Mahoney did not start the game, but entered in the 27th minute to help provide the team with a spark on offense. She noticed while on the sidelines that the Phoenix’s speed was creating problems for George Washington and took advantage of that upon entering the game. 

“We have a lot of pace on our team and a lot of personnel that are just great runners so we wanted to use that to our advantage,” Mahoney said. “I took my chance and I got behind them and pretty quickly we found the back of the net.” 

Mahoney underwent knee surgery over the summer and though she was not sure how her knee would react to playing, Mahoney said she believes scoring the team’s opening goal restored her confidence in her game. 

“It is a very special thing to score my first goal tonight,” Mahoney said. “I wasn’t really sure when I was going to be back playing and wasn’t really sure how the knee was going to do, but coming in and scoring a goal made me feel pretty confident.” 

Junior defender Kayla Hodges scored the second Elon goal in the 55th minute following a precise corner kick from junior midfielder Lily Harkes. The goal provided the Phoenix with insurance and the team’s stout defense took over from there.

The Phoenix dominated possession throughout the game and outshot George Washington 21-5. Head coach Neil Payne said he was impressed with the way players managed the ball and was especially pleased with how the defenders — Hodges, freshman Katie Lowe, junior Samantha Dominguez and freshman Kelly Degnan — took away scoring chances from George Washington’s potent offensive attack.    

“This back four is quite resilient and we really have evolved as a back line. There is good synergy on that back line, they understand each other’s games,” Payne said. “They proved tonight that last year wasn’t a fluke with their defense. They are one of the best defensive groups in the conference and you could see aspects of that tonight.” 

Prior to the game, Elon public address announcer Don Scott introduced the team as defending Colonial Athletic Association champions to the home crowd at Rudd Field for the first time ever, as the team won its first CAA Tournament championship in April. Mahoney said the moment provided her with a “fantastic feeling,” but she also does not want the team to become complacent from last season’s success. 

“Being the conference champions and having it said out loud is probably the coolest thing ever for us,” Mahoney said. “Now, our standard is to be champions and we are looking to do that again this season.” 

The Phoenix return to the pitch on Sunday, Aug. 22, when they host the University of North Carolina Greensboro Spartans from the Southern Conference. Elon is just 1-19-3 all-time against UNCG and have not defeated the Spartans since 2011, when they were still a member of the Southern Conference. 

Payne said he knows the Spartans pose a stern test for his team, but looks forward to renewing the old conference rivalry. 

“Everytime we play them, there is an element of excitement about it and we are expecting them to be a good team,” Payne said. “We feel we had a really good preseason and lots of good things within the group right now are happening, so I’m just excited to get back on the field.”