Sports

Connor’s career day sends Owls to Big East championship

Senior midfielder Kirstie Connor had four draw controls and scored a career-high five goals, four of which in the second half, to help the Owls advance to the Big East final with a 12-8 victory on Saturday at Cooper Field against Connecticut.

The last time the Owls (13-5, 5-3 Big East) played against Connecticut, Temple fought back from a three-goal halftime deficit to force overtime at Geasey Field.

UConn won both draw controls to control the offensive attack, leading to the eventual game-winning goal by senior midfielder Alyson Fazio, giving the Huskies their third consecutive win against Temple.

In the Big East Conference tournament semifinal on Thursday, the Huskies and Owls squared off again.

After a goal by sophomore attacker Grace Nolan, the Huskies’ leading point scorer and Big East Co-Attacker of the Year, tied the game in the opening minute of the first half on Thursday, the Owls scored seven consecutive goals on the way to a 12-8 victory at Georgetown University’s Cooper Field.

“I think everything about this tournament has been great, and the opportunity to play our first round against UConn and see what we could do, I think was something that excited them,” coach Bonnie Rosen, who helped start the lacrosse program at UConn and coached the Huskies for 10 years, said. “But they really have been, I think, focused on trying to win each game, so it happened to be UConn. But I know it felt good to play that well and to get a chance to redeem themselves from the earlier game for sure.”

The Owls will face University of Florida, the top seed in the tournament and the No. 2 ranked team in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll, on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the same location for the Big East Conference championship.

Thursday’s game started off back-and-forth, as neither team held more than a one-goal advantage until senior midfielder Kirstie Connor scored to give the Owls a 4-2 lead. Temple’s first four goals Thursday were all assisted, including three assists by senior attacker Rachel Schwaab.

Goals by Nolan and freshman midfielder Brooke Jensen tied the game for the Huskies. Senior midfielder Megan Tiernan scored with five minutes, 18 seconds left in the first half to give the Owls a 5-4 halftime lead.

Tiernan started the Owls’ 7-0 run with a goal 1:16 into the second half. Connor scored twice to give the Owls an 8-5 lead and prompt a timeout from UConn head coach Katie Woods.

The Owls kept the pressure on the Huskies after the timeout, as Connor scored two more goals to make it four in a row and a career-high five on the night.

The Owls won 13-of-18 ground balls in the second half to maintain offensive pressure. Senior defender Kari Longstaff and Megan Tiernan each had three ground balls to lead the Owls.

“We came up with a lot of the ground balls and caused turnovers and just really seemed to be clicking tonight in terms of how crisp we were,” Rosen said. “I think it’s exactly what you want out of a championship weekend. They were excited, and tested, and really showed up and played well.”

Junior midfielder Morgan Glassford scored her second goal of the game and senior midfielder Nicole Tiernan completed a hat-trick with 54 seconds left for the last two goals of the run. Fazio had a hat-trick in the final 37 seconds, but the deficit was too large for the Huskies to overcome.

The Owls got assists on 8-of-12 goals. Schwaab’s five assists is the second-most in a single game in program history, tying a mark set by eight other players. Senior attacker Brenda McDermott assisted on two goals and senior attacker Megan Pinkerton also had an assist.

“You could see the trust on the field tonight,” Rosen said. “Everyone was there for each other and no one scores goals without the help of someone else. Rachel Schwaab has done such a great job all year helping us to run our offense and she did it again tonight…And then Kirstie, she played like she always plays and then stepped it up even more to score us goals. It was a full complete game. I think every player stepped up to win their battles and it was a team game through and through.”

Temple opened its Big East schedule with a match against the Gators, whose only loss is to No. 1 University of Maryland. The Owls’ upset bid fell short, as Florida scored with four minutes, sixteen seconds remaining to earn the 10-9 home victory.

The winner of Saturday’s game earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, hosted at Talen Energy Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Union. The Owls’ last conference championship came in 2008, when Rosen’s squad defeated the University of Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 Conference championship.

“I think if everyone can do their little part, we have a chance to beat Florida,” Rosen said. “They are a very, very good team. We played them well the first time, and honestly we’re playing better than we played the first time we saw them. So if we can put together a day like we did tonight, I think we have a good chance to put ourselves in a position to win a championship.”

Evan Easterling can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.

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