Sports

For O’Connor, a changed method

Returning Owls feel ready for a second shot at American.

Heading into its 2013 campaign, the women’s soccer team’s lack of experience showed.

Temple started the season with a first-year head coach and a roster full of young players in the team’s first year in the newly formed American Athletic Conference.

The Owls’ pressing need for growth contributed to the team’s 6-12 overall record and a 1-8 showing in The American last season. Returning all but seven players from that squad, coach Seamus O’Connor said his team will benefit from its struggles last season.

“[We will be] learning by mistake and learning as we go along, building on what we did last year,” O’Connor said. “We have so few positions to replace, there is such a familiarity.”

One of the toughest parts of switching from the Atlantic 10 Conference to The American for the team was the size and athleticism of the athletes from the other schools.

O’Connor has countered this by putting more emphasis on his team’s strength and conditioning programs, something the coach said the team has not done in years past. Players said they have bought into their coach’s philosophy.

Junior defenseman Erin Lafferty, who tied for the team lead in points last season, feels improved conditioning will be important for the team’s ability to compete.

“The biggest thing we focused on improving to prepare for this season would be our fitness level,” Lafferty said. “We know this is one thing we can easily control to be able to already have an advantage on other teams.”

Along with the physical challenges presented by the athletes in The American, the Owls also faced mental obstacles as they adjusted to the new conference. O’Connor said sometimes he felt they were intimated by playing teams with bigger names as opposed to A-10 opponents.

This led to a more cautious style of play instead of attacking and playing their “own game,” O’Connor said.

Playing on its heels may have cost the team, as Temple lost six games by one goal last season. Yet, Lafferty said she feels her team is prepared to catch up to the rest of the league.

“The biggest strength for our team this year would be our experience and depth as a team,” Lafferty said. “We are no longer a young team and know what to expect as well as have the depth as a team to compete in this conference.”

With one senior on the roster in defenseman Alyssa Kirk, the team will rely heavily on Lafferty and her fellow juniors. This class includes goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff and forward Kelly Farrell, who were both named to the preseason All-Conference team.

Farrell tied Lafferty for the team lead in points last season with three goals and two assists and was an important part of the offense.

Kerkhoff, who posted seven shutouts last season, was the last line of a solid defensive unit last year. The Westerville, Ohio native credits her defensive teammates for her success in goal last year and said she’s excited at the prospect of a more rewarding season in 2014.

“As a goalkeeper, this recognition [preseason all conference] was great to receive, but I also have my defensive unit to thank because they kept the ball from getting to me,” Kerkhoff said. “We can definitely build on this success, though, I would love to get even more shutouts this season with the help of my defense and my team.”

In preparation for the season, O’Connor said he has been impressed not just with his team’s play, but by the exceptional attitude and character of his team, as well.

“People would be surprised how nice these kids are,” O’Connor said. “They are grateful for the opportunity to represent this university. They want to show students that Temple University has a great women’s soccer program.”

You can reach Owen McCue at owen.mccue@temple.edu and on twitter @ItsBigO

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