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New season brings higher expectations, goals for Phoenix men's soccer team

by Jack Rodenfels,
  • File Photo.

With seven regular starters from last year's roster graduating, the 2010 men's soccer squad will sport a new look — one full of young talent, new faces and battles at multiple positions. 

But despite a young team, the Phoenix is still setting its goals high, senior goalkeeper Clint Irwin said.

"We're just concentrating on any way that we can make the (NCAA) tournament," he said.

In 2008, the Phoenix sported a perfect 7-0-0 ledger in Southern Conference play, but it missed the 48-team postseason tournament after falling to College of Charleston 4-1 in the SoCon semifinal matchup Nov. 14 and failed to lock up one of the tournament's 22 automatic bids.

Last year, the Phoenix reached the SoCon title game for the first time in school history but was defeated by Wofford College in the title game.

While no Elon men's squad has made the NCAA tournament, coach Darren Powell said he believes he has the right blend of players to propel the team through the season, catapulting them to a hopeful NCAA postseason selection.

"The SoCon is one of the most open conferences in men's soccer in the country. Anybody can win it," Powell said, while adding, "Why not us?"

To reach that goal, Powell divides his season into sections — non-conference play, conference play and tournament games — while emphasizing the adage of "taking one game at a time" to his players.

Since Aug. 16, the Phoenix has been practicing to get ready for the season's first test: its first game Wednesday at High Point University. 

Another top non-conference matchups for the Phoenix is a Sept. 4 match against UNC Charlotte, ranked No. 25 in the preseason poll by College Soccer News. The 49ers also made the 2009 NCAA tournament. 

Also on the slate are a Sept. 28 match against Duke University, ranked No. 15 preseason, and an Oct. 26 bout against Wake Forest University, ranked No. 7 in the nation preseason. The Demon Deacons have made four consecutive Final Four appearances in the NCAA tournament.
The Phoenix begins its seven-game conference schedule against Davidson College on Sept. 25. 

Powell described the level playing field in the SoCon, noting Wofford's "worst to first" approach. After finishing in last place in the SoCon for six straight years, the Terriers ran the table in 2009 and won the conference tournament.

"In college soccer, there's so much parity," Powell said. "It's about respecting all of the teams in the league and thinking that they're all going to be strong."

The 2010 season brings eight newcomers to the Phoenix — seven freshmen and junior midfielder Nick Millington, a transfer from Wake Forest. These players bring many accolades, including seven players with all-conference selections, three all-region selections, a member of the U-18 US Men's National Team and a Parade High School All-American.

"Pretty much since I've been here it's been the same core," senior midfielder Brad Franks said. "It's exciting that we have such a new team. There are so many possibilities and opportunities."

With his team focused on the upcoming season and the challenges that come with bringing a new team together, Powell noted he believes this season's team can build off the successes of previous seasons.

"This new group is making their mark and looks to take the team to a whole new level," Powell said. "I think this group is ready for the challenge."