Temple’s field hockey team has been brandishing the confidence and mental toughness that have kept it a dominant force in the Atlantic Ten Conference for the past few years.
The Owls are finishing opponents with fashion.
They’re getting the corner shots when needed most.
And now they have something to show for it all.
History will not repeat itself – at least for this season – because the field hockey team is headed back to the A-10 Championships after a three-year absence.
It all came together last weekend after Temple (9-7, 4-0 A-10) beat conference foes La Salle and West Chester to remain undefeated and tied with No. 14 Richmond (13-2, 4-0 A-10) atop the conference standings.
Sophomore midfielder Katie Stevenson had a huge role in securing the Owls a conference tournament berth, netting both game-winning goals last weekend.
Coach Lauren Fuchs said her team is battle-tested and has been playing a smart brand of field hockey, exactly what the Owls will need when the conference championships begin in early November. But Fuchs acknowledged that, right now, the A-10 Championships are in the back of her head.
“I’m not even worried about that,” Fuchs said. “We still have some tune-up games before the A-10s and that’s important.”
Temple’s game at Richmond tomorrow is more than just a tune-up; it could be a preview of the A-10 Championship game. The Spiders will be the fifth nationally-ranked team Temple has faced this season.
Richmond’s Allie Howard and Inge van Bogerijin are two of the top scorers in the A-10. Howard leads the conference with 28 points. The Spiders also have the top goalkeeper in the conference in Michelle Swartz, but Owls’ goalkeeper Erin Conroy has posted a higher save percentage (.865).
Temple has had a tough time finishing opponents in the past, but those were games against top 10 teams. Richmond isn’t far from that stature. Although they pulled it out in overtime, the Owls spotted West Chester a 2-0 lead only four minutes into the game. It served as a wakeup call the Owls hope won’t happen again.
“Maybe before it was a mental thing, or just people not having the confidence or being in the right position,” senior captain Haley Dervinis said. “But I think now finally our offensive unit is really coming together and everyone knows and has the confidence that, yes, we’re going to touch the ball and put it in the cage. And this completely shows that we can.”
Temple’s six goals against West Chester were the most it had scored this season and the most since 1998. Fourteen of the Owls 16 games have been decided by one goal. The team had a three-game winning streak in the middle of the season where it won each game 1-0.
Fuchs conceded scoring is not the Owls’ Achilles Heel; a total of 14 players have netted a goal this season. Rather, it’s the defense that has had some minor problems in the circle late in games. Against West Chester, Temple had the win all but sealed until the Rams tied the game with a little more than a minute remaining in regulation. In the Owls’ seven losses, they have let up eight second-half goals, a statistic they hope to shave come tournament time.
Temple’s four seniors have been longing to return to the conference championships. The underclassmen have proven they have what it takes to help the team over the hump.
While Stevenson has played like a veteran in the second half of the season, she’s had to battle a heart problem just to get to this point.
Redshirt freshman Monica Jiao has been focused from game one, even after tearing her ACL last season. She has 12 points and one game-winning goal, giving a burst of youthful energy to the team.
“(Coach Fuchs) has us work on our mental aspect of the game,” Jiao said. “I feel now that I can learn from mistakes other people make just by watching. I think the beginning of the season was good for us because those big teams helped build us up.”
The conference tournament is scheduled to be played at Saint Joseph’s, but if the Hawks falter, the host site will go to the team with the best record.
Dervinis has just one simple request.
“I just want it to be in Philly,” she said. “St. Joe’s has a nice field, but I just don’t want to go to Virginia where we’ll have no fans…and no cheesesteaks.”
Unless they want to settle for McDonalds.
Chris Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.