Women’s soccer looking to start another successful season

Women’s soccer looking to start another successful season

With the 2021 Elon University women’s soccer season underway, players and coaches alike are preparing for another winning year. 

Last season was a historic one for the team. For the first time in program history, the Phoenix won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. The conference title gave the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, making it the first time they appeared in the NCAA bracket since 1999, when they were in the Big South Conference. 

As they enter their seventh season in the CAA, the team finished tied for second in the conference’s preseason poll, as voted on by the head coaches of the league’s 12 member schools. The team is tied in the poll with the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks and sits behind only the Hofstra Pride. 

Head Coach Neil Payne said he has high hopes for the team, which returns 22 players from last season. 

“Within the group, they’re starting to get a real appetite for success. They really bought into our blueprint last year,” said Payne. “This is by far the strongest the group has ever looked reporting for pre-season training.” 

Looking ahead to the fall 

Women’s soccer began its season this year at home on Aug. 19, with Elon Phoenix facing off against George Washington University Colonials. This season, the Phoenix will face seven non-conference opponents before the conference opener on Sept. 26, where it will face the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks. 

Elon will host the CAA tournament in November, but only the top six teams in the regular season CAA standings will qualify. Senior midfielder Sarah Bevington said she has high hopes for the Phoenix and the tournament. 

“It would be amazing if we made it there and got to make another statement on our campus. I think that’d be a cool thing for both the program and for the school,” Bevington said.

New and Returning Talent 

The team graduated three seniors in 2021 — midfielders Kara Kimbrel, Olivia Kraebel and Caylin Meikrantz — but Payne said he thinks the team will still continue to make strides with the introduction of the freshman class. The Phoenix is adding five freshmen to its  roster this year: forward Lydia Totten, defender Olivia McManes, defender Kelly Degnan, midfielder Kennedy Jones and goalkeeper Anna Hamner. 

“That’s what’s exciting is that we look very similar to last year, but we’ve added some players coming back from injury and on the freshmen class that are going to add to the quality of the overall group, so no massive changes other than this group will be now more experienced and better for this upcoming season,” Payne said.

In addition to the five freshmen, midfielder Hannah Doherty, a redshirt senior, and forward/midfielder Jessica Carrieri, are returning after missing last season due to injuries.

“It’s going to be nice to have those two options,” Payne said. “There’s going to be obviously certain games that will be suited to them more than others, but it definitely feels like a strong addition for us.”

The CAA announced their pre-season honors Aug. 12 and sophomore defender Katie Lowe was named to the Preseason All-CAA Team, while senior midfielder Carson Jones was an honorable mention for the team. 

“Everyone this pre-season so far has been doing just a great job, super competitive atmosphere,” Bevington said. “I guess it’s also very nice that we actually get a preseason this year because last year was so unique.” Bevington said. “

Rising From the Ashes

Coming off of a season that was changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team is hoping to follow suit the example of the school’s mascot and “rise from the ashes,” as games and the season go back to normal.

The CAA plans to hold a season that looks more similar to those pre-pandemic, with 17 games currently scheduled and non-conference matchups returning, as opposed to 2020’s 10 game, conference-only schedule. 

“Hopefully we have a normal season, but I think just getting into a more normal routine and something you can expect, like Thursday games and Sunday games, and just have a more normal routine to kind of get in the swing of things,” Bevington said. 

The team is taking the historic conference championship win during the pandemic as a learning opportunity to improve their game.

“I think it’s more of a motivator for us now. We know how great of a feeling it felt last year to kind of succeed and get to accomplish all those things,” Bevington said, “And it’s something that we want to experience again.” 

Payne is proud of the team for executing their growth and training to the highest level in this pre-season. 

“Certainly, we all acknowledge and embrace some growth areas within the team that we simply need to improve. And we will certainly hit those topics in pre-season,” Payne said. “But the fact that everybody wants to commit, everybody comes to train every day, wanting to improve is just massive.” 

A “there’s always room for improvement” mentality is what is emphasized to the team as they practice and begin competition. Payne said he trusts his players and the process behind the game as they enter the 2021 fall season. 

“You can see the games that the game is developing for them. The development is in place,” Payne said. And that’s probably been the most pleasing thing for us is watching the progress, but we’re really excited because, again, we feel like there’s things we can kick on.” 

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