Updated as of 11:10 p.m. on Oct. 27 to include quotes from head coach Neil Payne
WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Though the Elon University women’s soccer team refused to relent its pressure throughout the entirety of the 90 minutes against the Towson University Tigers, its excellent season, which saw the Phoenix earn the No. 4 seed in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, came to an end on Thursday night in the quarterfinal round.
The quarterfinal ended 2-1 in favor of Towson, as the Tigers scored once in the first half and once in the second before Elon drew within one in the closing minutes.
CAA Goalkeeper of the Year, Towson junior Riley Melendez, gave the Phoenix fits under the lights at host site Monmouth University. The Phoenix faced the Tigers for the second time in five days Thursday after the teams battled to a scoreless draw in what was each team’s final regular season CAA game on Oct. 23.
The pace of the game was fast from the outset, as both teams recorded 13 shots on the night. Elon’s defenders were on their heels the entire game as Towson’s forwards applied pressure high on the pitch any time they were not in possession of the ball.
Towson’s pressure paid off in the 22nd minute as junior forward Nia Christopher made a run to beat defenders and match up one-on-one with Elon junior goalkeeper McKenna Dalfonso. The ensuing shot off her left foot was perfect, beating Dalfonso to the bottom corner to put the Tigers ahead.
The early lead did not dissuade Tiger forwards from pressuring the Phoenix defenders. The second half began with Towson peppering the Elon goal with shots, outshooting Elon 7-0 in the first 20 minutes of the half.
In the 75th minute, redshirt junior Towson forward Phoebe Canoles dribbled the ball deliberately along the top of the Elon box. Though seemingly covered by several white-and-maroon jerseys in the area, Canoles unleashed a perfectly curled, video-game-quality shot, exquisitely lifting the ball into the upper right hand corner of the goal to put Towson ahead 2-0.
All a leaping Dalfonso could do was watch as Canoles celebrated the important insurance goal for the Tigers.
Melendez held the Phoenix scoreless for 86 minutes, registering two saves, both in important moments. Only three of Elon’s shots were on target, but another two rebounded off the goalposts, just inches away from swinging momentum in favor of the Phoenix each time.
Elon finally broke through in the 87th minute. The Phoenix was awarded a free kick in the attacking third after a hard Towson foul, and Elon sent five players forward to occupy the box for the scoring chance.
Junior defender Emilia Cappellett delivered the set piece, a sweeping cross that found the head of junior defender Katie Lowe. Lowe, who delivered a header to the top part of the goal beyond Melendez’s outstretched palms to decrease the Tigers’ lead to one. The goal was Lowe’s first of her Elon career.
Lowe and her teammates forwent an extended goal celebration and hustled the ball back to midfield, the game clock reading less than two minutes to full-time. Though the Phoenix created another chance in the final minute of the game, the Elon cross lofted beyond freshman forward Ashlee Brehio for a Towson goal kick that ended any comeback effort.
“We made some good adjustments later in the second half, and it felt like had we played a little longer, we would’ve gotten the equalizer,” head coach Neil Payne said.
The win extends Towson’s extraordinary season, as the Tigers have registered only two losses in 19 games. The Tigers will face the Hofstra University Pride, who upset top-seeded and regular season champion Monmouth today, in Sunday’s CAA semifinal round.
Elon’s season is over, as the Phoenix finishes with a 9-6-3 record and a 5-3-1 mark in conference matches.
“I’m disappointed for the seniors because obviously you want to keep playing for as long as you can,” Payne said. “But I can’t speak highly enough of this senior group. They’ve helped our program, and they won a championship along the way. They should be proud of not only their performance tonight but the legacy that they’ve left over the last four years.”