ELON, NC — Fresh off a thrilling 2-1 win at UNCG in its final nonconference match of the season, the Elon Women’s soccer team opens CAA play this week with a pair of home games against Northeastern and Monmouth. Thursday’s match against the Huskies is set for 7 pm, and Sunday’s against the Hawks will begin at 1 pm
Before the Phoenix embark on its nine-game conference slate, ElonPhoenix.com caught up with head Coach Neil Payne to discuss his team’s season so far.
Q: What have you learned about your team through eight matches that pleasantly surprised you?
Neil Payne: I think one is we’ve been able to rotate the squad. Two, the young players have contributed. And three, we’re able to be tactically flexible.
Q: You mentioned the young players. The freshman class has stepped in and made some big contributions already. How have you seen that group progress since arriving on campus?
NP: I think the older players have enabled them to progress. They’ve fit into the culture quite well. Their training habits are of the standard that the older players expect. So, they’re reaping the benefits of the entire group.
Q: A lot of those older players have stepped up in some big moments, as well. How impressed have you been with the leadership on this squad?
NP: I’ve been very impressed. It’s not just our Captains — it’s the entire leadership group. There are good people within that group. Becky Myers and Bethany Harford have brought consistent, strong leadership as the team captains.
Q: Speaking of consistency, Kennedy Jones has played all but 27 minutes this season. How important is that stability that she brings to the table?
NP: As a staff, we’ve been really impressed with Kennedy because we’ve asked her to adjust her game over the last year or so, and she’s bought into that. You can see the positive changes within her game that are allowing her to play to such a high standard. We’ve been very impressed with how she’s adapted.
Q: Last season, the team scored 21 goals. You’re at 17 already this year and rank towards the top of the conference in several Offensive categories. What has been the biggest key to that success?
NP: I think the biggest thing is the utilization of the entire group. We were very Reliant last year on Carson Jones, and it’s always a big loss when you lose such a good goalscorer. But the entire group has had to step up and fill that void. Some of the players we expected to step up and fill that void, but we’ve been surprised by some others who maybe we weren’t expecting at this point in the season to contribute some goals. Ashley Brehio is one. Abby Fusca has added to her goal tally, which is reflective in our style of play. So, it’s pleasing to see those two people be further along in the stat column than we probably would’ve expected at this point in the season.
Q: What do you hope to see the team improve on as CAA play gets underway?
NP: In many respects, all the play up until this point has been in preparation for Thursday. We’re playing two very good teams this week that you expect to finish in the top four or five in our conference. We have an enormous amount of respect for both programs. We’ve learned from some key games this year. We’ve learned a lot about our strengths and imposing our style of play on the game. But in equal measure, we learned about some deficiencies along the way that we needed to tighten up. So, going into conference play, we want to remain ourselves. However, we’ve got to eradicate some of the self-inflicted mistakes. We’ve just got to be disciplined in those moments, not be naive in some defensive moments and make the opposition work harder for goals.
— ELON —