The Owls are chasing last year’s chances.
Temple’s inaugural year in the Big East Conference saw them finish with a nationally-ranked 14-6 (4-3 Big East) season, but one that ended with a first-round exit in the conference tournament, and the team falling one spot short of an NCAA Tournament berth.
They’re not looking to miss out this time around.
“Last year it was like, ‘Oh maybe we’ll get in,’” junior defender and co-captain Rachel Steinman said. “But this year we’re definitely trying to shoot for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.”
“That’s our goal this year, 100 percent,” senior forward Amber Youtz said. “The day we walked in here, we wanted to make the NCAA tournament, and I think every single game is making that happen. We just need to keep building toward that goal, because everyone is on board for that one.”
The No. 15 Owls are 6-3 overall as they prepare to enter Big East play. The schedule will start on the road with Providence on Oct. 3. Temple will face Villanova on Oct. 10, followed by games against No. 19 Old Dominion, Georgetown and No. 2 Connecticut. From there, the team will compete against Villanova and UConn at home.
The Owls will also face non-conference opponents against No. 7 Penn State, Lafayette and William & Mary.
The team upset a No. 6-ranked Nittany Lions squad 3-0 on Sept. 6, 2013 last season, and coach Amanda Janney expects them to want to return the favor.
“Penn State is a big one,” Janney said. “We know that the challenge is going to be there, that they are going to want to get back at us.”
Temple will also face the defending national champions in UConn, a team it struggled with at the end of last season, coming its way.
“We absolutely didn’t play our best against them,” Janney said. “We’re playing great hockey now, so we need to make sure we play our best with them.”
The Owls will be going in with an offense led by Youtz, who leads the team with nine goals and 19 points, and other offensive threats like sophomore forward Katie Foran and junior forward Tricia Light, along with a defense that, to this point, has held opponents to 1.33 goals per game.
Lizzy Millen’s goalkeeping has played a factor in that number, posting an 84.1 save percentage that was ninth in the nation as of Sept. 26, and a 1.24 goals against average that currently ranks No. 16 in the nation. In the past four games, the redshirt senior made 35 saves, allowing five goals during that span.
“A lot of it has to do with this being my last year,” the co-captain said. “I can’t say never, but the likelihood of me continuing field hockey is slim. So I just wanted to put my best season and my best effort toward the team.”
“She saves our butt 98 percent of the game,” Youtz said. “Just knowing that she is going to be there, that last one who can always stop it for us, it just gives us confidence that we can be more risky in the front, that we can be more risky on defense because we have such a phenomenal goalie.”
After seeing its conference opponents for the first time last year, Youtz said the team will have some familiarity on its side.
“We understand these teams,” Youtz said. “We’ve played them last year, we’re starting to understand how the play. But we’re also building rivals. Now it has people where you want to come out and you want to stick it to them, and I think having that fire for a game is something that is really good to have.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @itssnick215