The Shutout Queen: Dalfonso leaves legacy for women’s soccer

In this article that is part of the student-led "Rising Phoenix" series, Joanna Dwyer '24 highlights the achievements of Elon women's soccer goalkeeper McKenna Dalfonso.

If there’s one thing about records, they’re meant to be broken.

After over three decades, the Elon University women’s soccer program has a new shutout leader: McKenna Dalfonso. In a 9-0 victory over Hampton on Sept. 28, Dalfonso claimed the 21st shutout of her career and etched her name in program history. However, this record is just one way the star goalie has made her mark on Elon women’s soccer.

“We always knew at some point she was going to break it,” Payne said. “It just shows you that it’s not about breaking it in the final season. It’s about all the hard work you did in the three previous seasons to give yourself a chance to go ahead and break it. It’s something that nobody can take away from her.”

McKenna Dalfonso ’24 with, from left, Coach Neil Payne, Assistant Coach Olivia Mills and Athletics Director Jenn Strawley.

After having a slow start in the recruiting process, Dalfonso heard about Elon University from her mother. Once she attended and played in a camp and toured the school, Dalfonso fell in love with the program.

Dalfonso arrived at Elon in the fall of 2020 with the rest of her freshmen teammates. The women’s soccer program was coming off their most successful season to date and this new group looked to capitalize on that success.

“I had worked so hard for this,” Dalfonso said. “I’ve been playing since I was five years old. With all the time and money my parents have spent, they’re my biggest fans, it just really meant a lot to me to get to do that.”

Head coach Neil Payne helped recruit Dalfonso to Elon after being impressed with her skillset at a showcase. He knew she would be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Phoenix.

“McKenna fit into our style,” Payne said. “It was good timing. We were shopping and McKenna was shopping and it was the perfect fit.”

COVID-19 had other plans. The 2020 college soccer season was moved to the spring of 2021, but Dalfonso would not let that stop her from reaching her end goal: the CAA championship. The Sewell, New Jersey, native proved herself and earned the starting role for the team’s tournament run.

McKenna Dalfonso with teammates during a game.

“My freshman year we started off in the worst possible way,” Dalfonso said. “Then we ended in the best possible way: winning and getting a bid to the NCAA tournament.”

In the tournament, Dalfonso recorded two shutouts to help the maroon and gold to its first CAA Championship in program history.

“We had nothing to lose,” Dalfonso said. “We looked forward to playing because you couldn’t do much else. I just went out and played my best and it worked out.”

Payne saw Dalfonso’s incredible work ethic and abilities and knew immediately she was going to help lead the team to victory.

“When she came in, her confidence just grew and grew,” Payne said. “She quickly developed a momentum within a game and it just seemed like every time she stepped on the field, she got better than the previous game.”

For Payne, Dalfonso’s contributions to the team’s CAA championship run were invaluable, as her poise and presence in the net as a freshman were the backbone of Elon’s upset victories over Hofstra and UNCW.

“She was brilliant,” Payne said. “She was a massive reason why we went on to win the championship. It obviously takes a lot of moving parts, but McKenna was certainly a key player in that process.”

McKenna Dalfonso ’24 with family members and coaches on senior day.

Through four years with the program, Dalfonso made over 50 starts in net, shutting out opponents left and right. In her junior season, she posted seven clean sheets, which was the most by an Elon goalkeeper since 2009. This put Dalfonso tied for the seventh most in program history, a list she would work to be at the top of during her senior season.

After climbing her way to second in the record book, the Phoenix was set for its matchup against Hampton in September. Entering the contest, Elon had not won a game in a month and needed a spark.

The minutes on the clock slowly ticked down as Elon scored goal after goal to give their goalkeeper a cushion and help build her confidence.

“I’m very superstitious,” Dalfonso said. “I was like, ‘I’ve done this a million times, so if I just do what I usually do, I’ll be fine.'”

As the final whistle sounded against Hampton, it finally became official: McKenna Dalfonso would be the name written in the record books for the program’s shutout leader. She then tacked on another shutout in Elon’s season finale against College of Charleston to bring her career tally to 22.

Payne has coached Dalfonso throughout her four years with the Phoenix and saw her drive in each game help bring her this success.

“She’s left a lasting legacy on the program,” Payne said. “Because she’s broken that record, she’s raised our standards. And she’s left that particular position in a much better place than she found it.”

After setting her sights on this milestone and breaking it, Dalfonso finally felt the weight taken off her shoulders and is happy to see her effort over the past four years give her the opportunity to leave her mark on the program.

“It’s definitely a big relief and a big burden off my back,” Dalfonso said. “It feels really good because it just shows how hard I worked growing up and all the time my parents have spent. It’s paid off.”