Early tests provide Big East picture

The women’s soccer team has gotten a taste of what Big East competition will be like next season.

When coach Matt Gwilliam’s Owls enter the Big East in the 2013 season, they will make a significant leap in strength of schedule and competition on a regular basis. What transpired in the previous weeks however, has given them a glimpse of the not too distant future.

“The Big East has more athleticism, bigger and stronger players and players with international experience,” Gwilliam said. “The kids in the Big East play at a higher level.”

Temple saw its best chance to prepare for the Big East competition in the Fairfield Inn by Marriott Invitational from Aug. 24-26, in which they faced Hofstra and James Madison.

“The tournament definitely helped our team prepare for what is to come,” Gwilliam said. “It showed us that we could compete with teams comparable to the Big East.”

Playing Hofstra and James Madison in the same weekend will liken itself to the 2013 season, Gwilliam said, as there are no “light teams” on the Big East schedule.

James Madison, who lost to the University of Pennsylvania on Friday, Aug. 31, fell to 2-2-0, while Hofstra also fell to 2-2-0 on the season after a loss to Colgate University on Friday.

Although their records may not indicate it to this point, Gwilliam said Hofstra and James Madison were two of the toughest teams that the Owls had on their 2012 schedule.

Two other teams that coach Gwilliam has circled on his schedule for the 2012 season are Atlantic 10 Conference rivals, the Penn and La Salle.

“Penn is a great team that knows how to win,” Gwilliam said. “La Salle will be the hardest team that we will face in the Atlantic 10 this season.”

“With Notre Dame, Marquette, Rutgers and all the rest of the teams, there is no shortage of tough competition for the Big East,” Gwilliam added.

Once they enter the Big East, the Owls plan to continue to improve. With the youngest roster in all of Division I, new leaders will be taking over the team once eight seniors graduate in Spring 2013.

“Losing eight seniors is going to hurt,” senior midfielder Jourdan Brill said. “But we have great players on the team and have a great freshman class this season.”

One player who already has some Big East experience of her own is junior defender Karly O’Toole, who played her freshman season at Syracuse.

“[O’Toole] will stick out next year,” Brill said. “She has experience and she knows what she is up against.”

Entering her senior year in the fall of 2013, O’Toole will look to be one of the top contributors to another young Owls’ squad next season.

“It is going to be interesting to see how we adapt to a bigger conference and better play,” O’Toole said. “Right now, it is really unknown how we are going to do.”

In order to make this jump to the larger conference, O’Toole sees a few things the Owls must work on in order to succeed in the Big East.

“We need to become better on top of the ball,” O’Toole said. “We need to get a little quicker and become a step quicker on the field.”

For the team as a whole, the key to succeeding in the Big East falls on Temple’s ability to keep up with its opponents.

“We have a lot of potential,” O’Toole said. “We just need to have a little faith in ourselves.”

John Murrow can be reached at john.murrow@temple.edu.

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