JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four goals in the opening 29 minutes proved to be enough offensive output for Elon University women’s soccer in its season-opening 4-2 victory on the road against North Florida on Friday night, Aug. 18.
Freshman forward Meredith Christopher tallied each of Elon’s first three goals in the opening 16 minutes of the contest to put the Phoenix up by a large margin early on. The hat trick is the first by a Phoenix player since Nicole Dennion’s trio Oct. 25 against Chattanooga. It’s also just the second hat trick in a season opener since 2002, when Kate Schabo scored three times in a 5-2 victory over Rider.
With the win, Elon has now won five consecutive season openers dating back to 2013 and is unbeaten in its last seven going back to 2011. Friday’s win also marks the second in three years over the Ospreys after Elon’s 1-0 win at Rudd Field back in 2015.
“We got off to a great start to the season in the first half against a talented, well-coached UNF team,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal. “It was an exciting first match and we’ll evaluate the video, clean some things up and get better as a team in search of a second win Sunday afternoon.”
Shaking off the first-game jitters quickly, Christopher tallied Elon’s first goal just over five minutes into the contest when she put home a rebound opportunity 18 yards out for her first collegiate goal. Christopher then tallied her second of the night just five minutes later in the 11th minute when she vollied a set piece from Grace Bennett past the keeper to make it 2-0. Bennett served her free kick from just over the midway line and Christopher hammered it home from just inside the top of the penalty area.
Just five minutes after her clinical volley, the forward from Fort Mill, S.C., beat two defenders in the box and finished a beautiful goal with a left-footed shot that beat UNF keeper Rhiannon Conelley.
Elon’s fourth goal again came off a set piece when Sydney Schilling sent a corner kick toward the six-yard line and Kendall Ballotti made a run toward goal, putting a header with pace on target to beat the keeper inside the near left post in the 29th minute.
North Florida did break the shutout in the closing minutes with a goal in the 86th minute. The Ospreys then got a second goal in the 90th minute when the Phoenix fell victim to an own goal.
Elon closed the evening with a 12-11 advantage in shots, but UNF put seven on target to the Phoenix’s six. Of those shots on target, Elon put four of its six on target past the end line to claim the victory. Katelyn Fowler made the start in goal for the Phoenix and made five saves on the night.
The Phoenix will look to make it a 2-0 start to 2017 on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 20, when it battles Jacksonville. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Southern Oak Stadium. The Dolphins defeated Charleston Southern on Friday night by the score of 2-1.