With as many losses as the Owls have accumulated in the past few weeks, the assumption for some would be that the season ended on Sunday as the regular season games came to a close. But Temple still has a chance to wear the conference crown.
This year in The American, all 10 conference teams are given a postseason tournament berth, regardless of record within conference.
“Whatever happened to this point doesn’t matter, I guess,” senior defender Karly O’Toole said. “Winning these games means a hell of a lot more than winning the games in the season.”
Despite a 1-8 record against American Athletic Conference opponents, the women’s soccer team will compete in its first conference tournament in 18 years for an opportunity to win a conference title and therefore earn an NCAA tournament berth.
“Postseason means forget about what happened the last time you played them,” O’Toole said. “Now, it’s a whole new game. A whole new 90 minutes. Nothing matters but winning.”
Temple has not reached the postseason since 1995, when the Owls, under coach Seamus McWilliams, were members of the Atlantic 10 Conference and had earned a 3-0-1 conference record.
“The interesting thing about this conference is that teams are playing each other for the first time and we don’t know their styles,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “I think some of the results in the playoffs will be different than the regular season. I think there will definitely be some surprises in there.”
After losing to Rutgers on Sunday, the Owls have earned the No. 9 seed and will play against No. 8 Southern Methodist on Friday at Central Florida’s Soccer Complex. The victor of that first round matchup will face top- seeded UCF on Nov. 3.
“We now know what to expect,” sophomore goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff said. “The only way we’re going to beat them is if we give 110 percent and we all do our jobs to the best of our abilities. Now we have to execute. I’m not really concerned with where we’re seeded or who we play. I just want us to win and play well.”
With every team’s inclusion in the conference tournament, the lower seeded teams will face the stronger, higher seeded teams. Junior defender Alyssa Kirk said that higher seeds’ overconfidence will lead to some teams’ downfall.
“They’re going to overlook us,” Kirk said. “That’s where we’re going to catch them. I think we’re going to have more confidence the second time around. After you play a team, you just have a little bit more of a competitive nature. You have a little more against them the more you play them.”
Though it has lost to all but one conference opponent, Temple players said they can make a case for their tournament berth.
“I definitely think we deserve a shot,” Kerkhoff said. “We’ve proven that we can play with these teams. I think we can hold our own. We’ve never been embarrassed. I think we’ve proven that we at least belong in this conference.”
One of the struggles the Owls have faced during the conference schedule has been overcoming slow first period performances.
“If we can find a way to play totally fearless and like we have nothing to lose, like we have in the second halves, that’s how we can be in the future,” Kirk said. “If we can just learn to play like we play in the second half in the first half, we’re going to be successful and we’re going to surprise some teams. If we can figure that out quickly, that would be even better.”
The Owls have been outscored 12-1 in the first period against conference opponents. In the second period against conference opponents, Temple has been outscored 7-4. The players believe if their first period play is more like their second period efforts, they will create trouble for their tournament opponent(s).
“I think what we’ve struggled with is being consistent,” Kerkhoff said. “We can see how good we are, but we have to be that good the whole game.”
In the previous match-up, with SMU, Temple lost 1-0. Despite the loss, the Owls are confident they can learn from their string of losses and play well enough to achieve an upset victory.
“I think we just need to stick to what we know, stick to what our strengths are, be the Broad Street Bullies that we are,” O’Toole said. “We’re finally in the postseason. It’s something we haven’t experienced. So we have nothing to lose, all the more to gain and history can be made.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.