Conference play to begin after hot start

With last year’s failure to reach the Big East Conference tournament firmly entrenched in the minds of the returning players, the women’s lacrosse team will start its 2015 conference campaign in less than a week against Big East newcomer and the eighth-ranked squad in the nation, the University of Florida.

Along with the Gators, Vanderbilt University joined the Big East this season, further supplementing the losses of Rutgers and Louisville, schools that jumped to the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences, respectfully.

“Florida and Vanderbilt are great additions to our conference,” Owls coach Bonnie Rosen said. “[They are] both really strong teams and in different geographical areas than us, which is also nice. Florida has been a dominant force since they started lacrosse, and Vanderbilt has always been a top team.”

The two southern universities move from the women-exclusive American Lacrosse Conference, which was discontinued last year after all seven teams joined different leagues. Florida, which is 7-4 so far this season, won the ALC tournament two out of the last three years.

The two 2015 additions mark the second year in a row in which multiple teams have left the conference and have been replaced by incoming squads. This year will only be Temple’s second in the Big East, after it finished sixth in 2014 with a 3-4 conference record.

So far this season, the Owls have averaged 10.89 goals per game, while allowing an average of 9.33. They have performed well on free-position opportunities, as well, converting 24 of their 55 attempts into scores for a 44 percent success rate.

Junior attacker Kathryn Skahan, whose 10 goals ranks third on the team, talked about Temple’s ability and need to continue its offensive success into Big East play.

“We have a lot of challenging games coming up,” the West Chester native said. “On any given day, anybody can beat anybody, so as long as we come out like we have been and are able to start off the game fast and strong, we have a chance against all the Big East teams. If we just keep up what we have been doing on offense, then we will be able to win a lot of games.”

On defense, the Owls have caused 91 turnovers so far this season and have a clear rate of 81 percent, a mark that sits nearly 10 percentage points better than the one Temple ended with in 2014.

Rosen said she is excited to still have time to prepare her team for the conference competition.

“If conference play started today we would have to be ready,” Rosen said. “But we are happy that we have another week to get everything ready to go because we still have things to work on.”

At this point in the season, Temple has a better record than any other Big East school. However, it doesn’t mean much until the Owls can prove they can beat top conference opponents.

“Winning the conference tournament is the ultimate goal,” junior defender and captain Maddie McTigue said. “However, we definitely want to focus on each game and not look too far ahead to the tournament. We have to get the work done first if we want to get there and hopefully it will come through for us.”

Matt Cockayne can be reached at matt.cockayne@temple.edu or on Twitter @mattcockayne55.

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