Senior midfielder Paige Gross hobbled off the field on crutches, having been injured late in the game. Senior back and midfielder Ali Meszaros and senior forward Katie Foran both cried, devastated by the game that marked the end of their athletic careers at Temple.
As the Owls left their bench to salute their fans for one final time in 2016, the dejection on the faces of the players was evident after an 8-1 loss to Connecticut in the Big East Conference tournament. For the fourth consecutive year, the seniors finished their seasons with a tournament loss to the Huskies.
Temple had to replace 10 seniors at the start of 2016 and welcomed eight freshmen onto the team. Gross, Meszaros, Foran and senior back and midfielder Michelle Walsh were tasked with bringing the young team together, a difficult responsibility in their final seasons.
“We had to be big role models for them,” Walsh said. “There are only four of us, so it was a big responsibility that we had.”
“They were very welcoming from the very start,” freshman back Becky Gerhart said. “The seniors just have a lot of experience, and they’ve helped guide me and led me through [the season].”
After finishing 14-6 as freshman and 14-7 as sophomores, the group was trying to return to form following an 8-13 record as juniors.
The Owls opened the season by losing their first three games and eight of their first nine. While the end of August and September wasn’t kind to the team, Temple won six of its last nine regular season games. The team went 3-2 against Big East opponents in that span to ensure a spot in a postseason tournament for the 14th consecutive year.
“I think we really progressed over the season from where we started,” Walsh said. “Everybody had key roles in that success.”
“Just looking at where we were, how much we’ve grown feels really great,” Foran said. “Everyone put everything out that they could. I’m happy with everything we’ve done this season.”
Gross and Meszaros started in every game this season, finishing second and fourth on the team in minutes, respectively. Foran started 18 of the team’s 19 games, and Walsh played in all 19 games, starting four. All four seniors started on Friday.
“[The seniors] have been so versatile for us,” coach Marybeth Freeman said. “We’ll lose them, especially their characters as well, all great young women.”
Next season, the Owls will return eight players who started 12 or more games. Meszaros, Gross and redshirt-junior Sarah Keer were the only Owls’ with more than 12 starts in 2015 heading into this year.
Freshman goalkeeper Maddie Lilliock, who led the team in minutes, will be back. So will junior midfielder Rachel Mueller, who led the team in scoring with 10 goals.
“Our team can learn a lot from this loss and improve for next season,” Meszaros said.
Varun Sivakumar can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @VarunSivakumar.