In the past two seasons, the women’s soccer team hasn’t seen much change in the win column, but in 2012, there was a noticeable change in the way the Owls kept opponents from scoring.
This past season, Temple posted its best defensive numbers in years and is beginning to resemble coach Matt Gwilliam’s vision for the program.
Before his arrival at Temple, Gwilliam spent three seasons as an assistant coach for the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team. During Gwilliam’s time there, the Hokies received three consecutive NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference tournament berths.
“I worked with two unbelievable coaches in Kelly Cagle and Charles ‘Chugger’ Adair,” Gwilliam said. “And I was able to put my own spin on things, to help that team be successful.”
In Virginia Tech’s 2008 and 2009 season, respectively, the Hokies tied and set the school record for shutouts, with Gwilliam coaching their back four and keeper.
“When you’re playing some of the best offenses in the country like Florida State, Virginia or Wake Forest, you really have to be sharp,” Gwilliam said.
In 2010, Gwilliam worked directly with Virginia Tech goalkeeper, Dayle Colpitts, who was named to the ACC All-freshman team.
“We were always really responsive to his coaching style,” Colpitts said. “We spent a lot of time on shot stopping and reaction. It really paid off. Getting so many reps with [Gwilliam] my freshman year is still helping me today, to compete in the ACC.”
Post-Virginia Tech, Gwilliam brought what he had learned the previous three years and a premeditated plan to Temple women’s soccer.
“I knew this was a big job to take on. I love the area. I saw a place for potential,” Gwilliam said. “In our first year, the key was that we had to cut down on our goals against. We weren’t able to do a whole lot of recruiting and we gave up a lot of goals.”
In 2011, the Owls allowed 46 goals and a shot percentage of .163, which ranked among the worst in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Gwilliam’s second season with the Owls marked a dramatic change in the team’s defense. Temple brought in 15 freshmen, many of whom played immediately. Despite the youngest roster in Division I women’s soccer, the Owls began playing with a more effective defense.
“We were able to do some recruiting and had a full year of bringing in some positive kids that would buy in,” Gwilliam said.
In 2012, the Owls allowed 22 goals and a shot percentage of .056. Temple had allowed a shooting percentage of at least .100 from 2008–11.
“When you talk about defending, it’s about an attitude,” Gwilliam said. “It’s about being organized. We talk a lot about looking out for each other. When you look out for each other on the field, you can defend well. I think we were able to change that attitude, to change that mindset that we can compete. It’s something we really took pride in.”
Among the new group of freshmen were goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff and forward Erin Lafferty. Both Kerkhoff and Lafferty joined Colpitts as freshman players, coached by Gwilliam, to receive freshman All-Conference Team honors, in their respective conferences. Both attribute their success to the defensive focus that Gwilliam brings to their team.
“[Gwilliam] always talks about each person, on the defense, acting as a unit,” Kerkhoff said. “He really concentrates on communicating with each other.”
“He tells us to work as a whole. No separation,” Lafferty said.
From its first season to second season, coached by Gwilliam, Temple increased its season save total from 96 to 152.
“Defense is important because it is our rock,” Lafferty said.
“Our defense was so solid this year. That had a lot to do with [Gwilliam’s] coaching,” Kerkhoff said.
Although Temple has accumulated a string of losing seasons since 2008, the most recent season’s defensive improvement has Gwilliam and his team optimistic for future success. The Owls’ 5–12–3 record contained a nine-match stretch of allowing one goal or less and 11 matches ended in a score of 1–0 or a scoreless tie.
“I think we made a massive leap with that,” Gwilliam said. “As much as we can talk about how our backs were great, and our goalkeeping was great, it’s not on us. It’s on them. They just use the tools we gave them.”
“We probably played the toughest schedule that this program has seen in eight to 10 years and we were competitive in every single game,” Gwilliam added.
With the move to the Big East in 2013, Temple must continue its strong defensive play to stay competitive in a stronger conference.
“I know we’ve got the framework. I know we’re going to continue to make great strides, especially moving into the Big East,” Gwilliam said. “To see the standard, in the ACC, that is expected to compete at the highest level, I was able to bring that here to Temple.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.