After a record-setting performance in their last outing, the Elon University women’s soccer team fell short to the University of Delaware at Rudd Field. Delaware’s goal in the opening minute combined with their impressive defense was enough to propel them to a 1-0 victory over the Phoenix Oct. 5.
Elon head coach Neil Payne said the Blue Hens’ immediate goal was “something you don’t plan for.” He also said the way Elon started the game wasn’t up to their usual standard.
“I'm not sure what happened,” Payne said. “We were switched off in the first minute of the game. We had to crawl our way back into the first half.”
While Payne was not pleased with the first half of play, he said the Phoenix ramped it up in the second half.
“Had we started that way, we're probably looking at a different result,” Payne said.
Delaware senior forward Raychel Speicher’s goal in the 26th second of play would be the first and only goal of the night for either team. Speicher’s go-ahead attempt crossed through the Elon backline as she tapped it into the bottom right corner of the net to give the Blue Hens the lead for the rest of the match.
Delaware had two other shot opportunities in the first five minutes, but was unable to convert. Blue Hen junior forward Morgan Tilley’s shot went out top, while freshman midfielder Willa Pratt saw her attempt hit the post.
After a frantic five minutes, Elon started to play with more composure. As they worked the ball down the pitch in a midfield battle, it was clear the Phoenix offense was going to have to work extra hard to score against the Blue Hen backline. The Delaware defense has surrendered just six goals in eight Coastal Athletic Association matchups. This season, the Blue Hens have given up 10 goals in 14 games played.
The Phoenix found a shot opportunity in the 11th minute when junior forward Lydia Totten found an opening in the Delaware defense. But her look was thwarted by Delaware senior goalkeeper Kyla Burns.
Both offenses screeched to a halt in the midfield and did not create any shots up until the 29th minute when a header attempt from Elon freshman forward Grace Gelhaus went just right of the goal.
Gelhaus, who is the reigning CAA rookie of the week, had her strongest outing of the season last time out in Elon’s 9-0 win over Hampton University Sept. 28. On top of notching three goals in Elon’s largest win in Rudd Field history, she became the first Elon player since 2018 to bag a hat trick.
It appeared that the Delaware backline had a focus on containing Gelhaus as an offensive threat after she put the CAA on notice last week. She was guarded well by Delaware junior defender Carly Binn who gave her very little breathing room to operate and held Gelhaus to just one shot on goal and three shots total.
In the 39th minute, Delaware senior midfielder Lea Panagiotidis had a great shot opportunity, but Gelhaus cleared it off the line. Soon after in the 40th minute, the Blue Hens had another opportunity after their corner kick led to a shot by senior midfielder Katie Hackley, but Elon junior goalkeeper Anna Hamner was able to save it.
Payne said he “didn’t recognize the team in the first half” and gave them some tough love during the break.
“We talked about the competitiveness and the drive,” Payne said. “It just simply wasn't there.”
Coming out of the break, it looked like the Phoenix were a completely different team on the attack. In the 57th minute, Totten had a phenomenal look that she sent straight past the defense. Yet it went right into the crossbar, causing the ball to ricochet down and out.
Two minutes later, Elon senior defender Katie Lowe had a shot that looked on-line, but Burns wrapped up another save. Frustration appeared to set in for the Phoenix in the 60th minute, as junior midfielder Kennedy Jones was called for a yellow card.
As the match winded down, Elon had chance after chance. However, the Blue Hen backline would not budge. Delaware’s defense, anchored by Burns, always had a response.
The Phoenix kept firing away. Delaware seemed less concerned about generating looks and more focused on keeping Elon scoreless at all costs. If the Blue Hens even got the ball across midfield in their defending direction, they would make long passes across the pitch or kick the ball out, which was very effective in burning the clock.
Gelhaus, Totten and sophomore forward Ashlee Brehio all had solid looks during a four-shot onslaught in the five-minute span, but none of them found the back of the net.
Totten had great shot looks in the 71st and 78th minutes, but Burns was able to corral both. Totten racked up three shots on goal and seven shots in total during the game alone, but was never able to find the back of the net. While she didn’t find the net, she did find the goalpost and crossbar on multiple occasions.
The last shot by the Phoenix came in the 83rd minute from freshman defender Morgan Juran.
While Elon ultimately came up short, Payne said he saw a complete shift in mentality from the Phoenix coming out of the locker room. He said they were able to change some things which caused Delaware some problems.
The Phoenix outshot the Blue Hens 13-0 in the second half. Comparatively, Elon had just four shot attempts in the first period.
Despite Elon’s potent offensive second stanza, Payne credited Delaware’s impressive defense which held them scoreless. The Blue Hens’ defense has not given up a goal in 246 minutes of play. Burns played the entire game all while racking up seven saves during their shutout over the Phoenix. She now has 38 saves in the season and a 95% save percentage.
With the win, Delaware moves into a three-way tie for seventh place in the CAA standings. With the loss, Elon is now in second-to-last place with just five games left on their slate. Only the top six teams in the CAA will qualify for the conference tournament.
The Phoenix will look to a Sunday matinee at 12 p.m. Oct. 8. at Rudd Field to face another CAA opponent in Drexel University.
Miles Hayford contributed to the reporting of this story.