Freshman’s ‘pace’ gets women’s soccer past Houston

Midfielder Emma Wilkins scored her first goal since Aug. 31 in Temple’s 2-0 win against Houston at the Temple Sports Complex on Thursday afternoon.

Freshman midfielder Emma Wilkins shoots during a practice drill at the Temple Sports Complex on Wednesday. JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When freshman midfielder Emma Wilkins subbed into Thursday’s game against Houston in the 15th minute, she had one thought: Make a play.

As Wilkins stormed down the field on the attack in the 17th minute, redshirt-senior forward Kayla Cunningham sent the ball in from the left side of the box.

Wilkins, positioned in the middle of the box, calmly collected the ball and tapped it into the net past Houston freshman goalkeeper Kate Godfrey to score the second goal 17 minutes, 23 seconds into Temple’s (6-6-2, 2-2-1 American Athletic Conference) 2-0 win at the Temple Sports Complex.

“They didn’t really follow me when I was running into the box,” Wilkins said. “They were too concentrated on Kayla, who assisted my goal. So I just pulled off a little bit, and she found my feet.”

Wilkins scored her third goal of the season and her first since her two-goal game against Rider University on Aug. 31. She had been held pointless since her assist against Mount St. Mary’s University on Sept. 3. But she still generated scoring opportunities in that seven-game stretch.

Wilkins’ 18 shots is third on the team and her 55.6 shots on goal percentage is second among players with at least six shots on goal. She said her pace helps her create opportunities.

“No matter if I start or come off the bench, coach [Seamus] O’Connor always expects me to give it my all,” Wilkins said. “He always tells me to make an impact with my speed and add that extra kick to the overall pace of the game.”

In the 21st minute, Wilkins handled the ball up the middle of the field and sent it through the seam to Cunningham, who shot the ball toward the top right corner of the net. Godfrey made a diving save.

About 10 minutes later, Wilkins handled the ball and again passed to Cunningham, who sent the ball toward junior midfielder Sarah McGlinn, whose shot missed the net.

O’Connor said it was “frustrating” for Wilkins as she tried to adapt to playing with new players in a new system early in the season. Once Wilkins figured out where senior forwards Elana Falcone and Gabriella McKeown would be on the field, she could set herself up to score and better use her speed, she said.

Because O’Connor wants Wilkins to influence games with her speed, timing runs to crosses and passes to stay onside is important for her. The key isn’t being the fastest player. It is executing the play correctly, O’Connor said.

“She’s young, but having to learn that there’s so much more to her game, and especially in our conference she’s learned that everyone’s just as fast as her,” O’Connor said. “So it’s all about timing her runs, and not wasting energy. She did a great job today of making that run off the ball when it slipped through to her, and that was something we worked on yesterday was finishing low on the corners.”

Forwards “value their work on goals,” but O’Connor tries to explain that their worth to the team is more than how many times they put the ball in the net, he said. Getting back into the goal column is good for Wilkins’ confidence, O’Connor said.

“They think if they don’t score, they’re not doing good, and it’s good for her psychologically to get a goal because that’s their bread and butter.”

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