Entering the American Athletic Conference two years ago was nervewracking for coach Seamus O’Connor.
Looking through the conference’s elite teams, he knew it would be an uphill battle.
“The first year, you’re coaching against some people, they’ve won more games than I’ve had hot breakfast in my life,” O’Connor said. “So it’s very, very intimidating.”
Last season, the squad entered conference play with a program-best 7-2 record. They traveled to Cincinnati for their first foe from The American.
The Owls, who left the Atlantic 10 conference two seasons ago, arrived on the Bearcats’ campus with just a single victory in The American to their name; a 2-0 win over Houston at Ambler Sports Complex, which was followed by eight straight conference losses for a 1-8 mark in 2013.
Senior midfiedler Shannon Senour said she and her teammates were nervous, and somewhat overwhelmed by Cincinnati’s facilities and capacity crowd prior to the start of the game.
After conceding a goal in the 34th minute, the Owls responded with two second-half scores for their second victory in The American in as many years. The game-winner came on a header from Kelly Farrell in the 79th minute.
“They were one of the best teams that we ever played,” Senour said. “They were so good, and nobody expected us to win, like nobody. We were completely the underdog and it felt so good to win that game.”
Seamus O’Connor, now in his third season as Temple’s coach, led the Owls to a 3-5-1 record in conference play last season.
Though a stark difference from the team’s non-conference record, Temple’s three conference wins were its most in a season since 2009, when the school was still in the A-10.
“It was actually wonderful,” O’Connor said of his team’s performance in The American last season. “The nine-game conference slate, I was happy. We were consistent game to game.”
O’Connor said it has been a major adjustment for both the coaching staff and the players to go from facing mostly local recruits in the A-10 to matching up with national team players and highly-touted coaches in The American. He added that the transition would start with him.
“I think it goes from the head coach on down,” O’Connor said. “But after our first year we kind of looked at ourselves and they all said it … ‘We’re good enough to do this. We can do this.’”
In Temple’s five conference losses in 2014, senior goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff allowed more than two goals once, a 3-0 defeat at the hands of The American’s conference tournament champion, Connecticut.
Kerkhoff also had one shutout in conference play last season in a 1-0 win against Houston.
“I think a lot of it is mental,” Kerkhoff said of playing in The American. “You have to go in with the mindset that you can beat these people; like, they’re not superhuman, they’re beatable.”
The Owls will meet last year’s conference regular-season champion Central Florida on the road in their first game of conference play on Sept. 24.
“They’re the best team in the conference,” Senour said of UCF. “I think if we beat them the first game of the conference, we would believe that we could beat anybody else, because we could.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tom_reifsnyder.