On a humid day, with the sun shining down on the Owls’ new facility just a few blocks south of Morgan Hall, the sound of hammering and drilling echoed across the field. Construction workers were finishing off final preparations for the field hockey team’s first home game against Penn State, on Sept. 2.
The squad was surprisingly optimistic, and upbeat, despite a crushing 9-1 defeat to the University of Maryland in a scrimmage the night before.
“I think we came out strong, and we just need to build upon that,” redshirt-junior forward Sarah Keer said.
In coach Marybeth Freeman’s first season heading the program, the Owls learned how to respond to tough losses.
Freeman’s tenure started out with a 3-12 record through the first 15 games. The team then rattled off five straight wins, including its biggest one, a 1-0 shutout against Old Dominion University, then-ranked No. 12 in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll.
The Owls finished with an 8-13 record last year, and a 3-2 record in the Big East Conference. They earned the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament after a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against Villanova and advanced to the Big East championship, where their season ended with a 7-3 loss to then-undefeated Connecticut.
Freeman said the team would like to regain the momentum it had going into the final game of its season, but she understands it’s not that easy.
“Of course we always want to put our best foot forward and start out on a five-game [winning] streak, but our philosophy is one game at a time, with the most important game being the next game,” Freeman said.
The Owls enter the 2016 season without their three leading scorers from last year: Tricia Light, Alyssa Delp and Sarah Deck, who combined for 30 of the team’s 50 goals. Both Delp and Deck also garnered first team all-Big East selections in their final seasons.
Freeman isn’t too worried about it.
“You look at two years ago, we had a great forward in Amber Youtz, our leading scorer, we could’ve said the same thing last year, like who’s gonna step up and take that role,” Freeman said. “Lo and behold we had three people do it, which is great.”
In addition to Light, Delp and Deck, seven other seniors graduated last year. Forward Katie Foran, midfielder Paige Gross and midfielders/backers Michelle Walsh and Ali Meszaros make up this year’s senior class.
Eight freshmen will join the roster, which also features four seniors, four juniors and five sophomores.
Keer expects big improvements from the returning players, along with a freshman class that may be ahead of schedule to help fill the void left by last year’s seniors.
“I think a lot of the underclassmen have stepped up, since we were so upper-class heavy last year,” Keer said. “Especially the freshmen from last year have stepped into bigger roles which is good to see.”
“The freshman are fitting in really well, and getting used to the speed of the game, which is really helping us overall as a team,” she added.
Gross, who is one of the team’s co-captains, expects to be one of the main leaders on and off the field this season.
“I like to lead by example,” Gross said. “I’m very vocal. I like to lead with my hustle, and competitiveness, in practice and in the games.”
Liberty University and Quinnipiac University will join the Big East this year as the conference expands to eight teams in field hockey. The Owls lost to Liberty 3-2 in overtime last season.
After the Owls finished second in the Big East last season, this year’s preseason coaches’ poll has Temple falling to fourth out of eight teams. Connecticut, Liberty and Old Dominion were picked to finish ahead of the Owls, respectively.
“I think we have a really good chance to win the Big East this year, the tournament is on our home field,” Gross said. “Opening the season against the defending champs will also give us a great test.”
Brett Lane can be reached at email@example.com.