This season has been one of milestones for the Elon University men’s soccer team: being ranked for the second time in the school’s history, senior forward Chris Thomas having arguably the best individual single season in program history and, after a 1-0 win over Appalachian State University Oct. 16, reaching the 10-win mark, which is tied for the most wins since head coach Darren Powell came to Elon Dec. 2004.
It surpassed that mark Oct. 23 against Wake Forest University in a 1-0 victory.
Head coach Darren Powell recognizes the significance of his team’s accomplishment and is proud of his players’ character and dedication.
“We’ve never had more than 10 wins,” Powell said. “To do that, we’ve got to be extremely proud, and also the way the guys defended and showed resilience really speaks volumes of the character of the group.”
Powell emphasizes the need to move on, knowing this team can accomplish bigger and better things. Included on the list of goals are a Southern Conference Championship and a run in the NCAA tournament.
“For me, (the team) is a work in progress,” Powell said. “It’s wonderful, but we have lofty goals for our program, lofty goals for our players and we’re just going to keep working toward those and every day we want to give ourselves the best possible chance to achieve those goals.”
The Phoenix isn’t new to national recognition. After beating nationally-ranked Furman University, the Phoenix entered all three national polls for the second time in school history.
And although the Phoenix lost its next game to Wofford University, junior midfielder Daniel Lovitz thought the ranking was well deserved and long overdue.
“I can’t even put it into words how much (being ranked) means to us,” Lovitz said. “It means everything to us, to the school. (We) can’t read into it too much because the games come ‘thick and fast,’ as coach always says. It’s very nice to see our recognition finally, we thought we’ve earned it for a while but we understood we had to do some big things, and this year we’ve started to do them.”
Thomas, the leading goal scorer in the nation, has shouldered much of the offensive load for the Phoenix. According to assistant coach Chris Little, his season is hardly surprising given his potential.
“He’s had talent. He had a rough year last year, coming off a knee injury, it was a difficult year for him,” Little said. “I think what’s great about Chris is he’s showing his character. To get fit, to work hard at his game and he’s reaping the benefits of that right now and we’re delighted for him.”
Little sees no reason to believe Thomas will slow down in the Phoenix’s last three regular season games or in postseason play.
“I think he can continue his production. Chris is a talented player,”Little said.“He’s working very hard at his game. He has aspirations to be a professional player, so we’re working with him every day. He’s very coachable, he’s working extremely hard at it and we think it’ll continue. Hopefully he catches those breaks. Right now, he’s leading the nation in goals and there’s nothing we’d like more than for him to be leading the nation at the end of the year.”
But Thomas isn’t worried about individual honors. His goal is simple: lead his team to a second straight Southern Conference tournament championship and second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good enough record to get in the NCAAs without winning the (SoCon) tournament,” he said. “And the (NCAA) tournament will be a bonus.”
The Phoenix, who currently sits in second place in the SoCon with a 4-2 record, will need to become more consistent on the defensive end to make a deep run in postseason play, something Powell said is often discussed.
“What we do as a group is sit down and we try to talk about the good, what we did well and also the things we need to improve upon,” he said.