Spartans seek SoCon title Saturday at Elon
GREENSBORO, N.C.—The scenario couldn't be any more simple for the UNCG men's soccer team. Win your match on Saturday night at Elon and you're the 2011 Southern Conference regular season champions.
That's what's on the line for the Spartans when they visit the Phoenix in the regular-season conference finale for both teams, 7 p.m. at Rudd Field.
But it won't be easy. The Spartans (7-7-1 overall, 4-1-1 SoCon) have lost three straight to the Phoenix (6-9-1, 2-4-0) and haven't won at Elon since 2003.
The Spartans are in position to clinch their seventh SoCon championship thanks in part to a wild night around the league on Tuesday. Third-place UNCG handed previous conference leader Georgia Southern a 5-0 shellacking in Greensboro while at the same time previously winless Wofford knocked off second-place Appalachian State (1-0) in Boone, paving the way for the Spartans' leap to the top of the standings.
At the same time, Elon was enjoying a big win of its own, taking a 1-0 victory at College of Charleston.
While a win clinches the regular season crown for UNCG, the Spartans can still finish on top with a tie or even a loss. If Appalachian State and Furman lose or tie in their matches this weekend, UNCG finishes as champions regardless of the outcome of their match. Fifth-place Davidson has two conference matches remaining and is still in the picture as well. But all of these scenarios become irrelevant if the Spartans win on Saturday.
Junior Hakan Ilhan leads the Spartans and ranks second in the SoCon in both goals (9) and points (21), while junior goalkeeper Peyton Ford ranks second in the SoCon with a 0.67 goals-against average. Ford's six shutouts are tied for third in the conference.
With his performance against Georgia Southern Ford also became UNCG's all-time leader in Division I shutouts with 15, passing current assistant coach Jay Benfield on the list. He enters Saturday's match having allowed just three goals over his last 759 minutes for a 0.36 goals-against average in that span. In SoCon play Ford has allowed just one goal in 560 minutes (0.16 gaa).
• Head coach Justin Maullin is 19-13-5 (.581) in his second season with the Spartans, including 8-2-3 (.731) in SoCon games
• Tuesday's match is the 16th meeting in the series between the Spartans and the Phoenix, with UNCG holding a 9-4-1 advantage in the series. Elon, however, has won the last three meetings and UNCG hasn't won at Elon since 2003.
• After starting the year 0-4-0 on the road, the Spartans have won two straight away from home. A win on Saturday gives the Spartans their first three-match winning streak of the year.
• Junior goalkeeper Peyton Ford earned his 15th career shutout on Tuesday against Georgia Southern, passing current assistant coach Jay Benfield (2001-05) to become UNCG's all-time leader in Division I shutouts. Tim Borer (1982-83) owns the overall career mark of 26 shutouts.
• Benfield was the last Spartan keeper to post a sub-1.00 goals-against average, finishing the 2005 season at 0.83. Ford is on pace to best the UNCG Division I-era record.