Entering the final season in the Atlantic 10 Conference before joining the Big East Conference, the women’s soccer team had one goal: win the A-10 tournament. How the team was going to achieve that goal did not matter.
The Owls knew at the beginning of the season that it would have one of the toughest schedules in team history. Hofstra, James Madison, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton would provide stiff competition for the young team. After 14 games, the team has come to rely heavily on its defense to keep the Owls in games, coach Matt Gwilliam said.
“The reason we are in every game is because of our strong team defense,” Gwilliam said. “Our front line, back third and goalkeeping have all done very well for us.”
Through games until Sept. 30, the Owls’ defense was ranked No. 82 out of 330 Division I women’s soccer teams in goals-against average. The team has allowed 13 goals through 14 games.
“I think to this point, we have done really well defensively compared to last season,” junior defender Karly O’Toole said. “It is not just the back four that has helped us. It’s the midfield, the forwards and the goalkeepers that has contributed defensively.”
Although the Owls are 4–8–2, the team doesn’t believe the record indicates their play to this point in the year.
“We have been playing in a lot of close games this season,” redshirt-senior goalkeeper Tara Murphy said. “We are a pretty solid team defensively. Our back four is pretty tight, our goalkeeping has been good and we will find ways to win close games.”
After losing redshirt-junior forward Jackie Krostek to a torn ACL last season, her addition to the defense has been a strong asset, Gwilliam said.
“We slid [Krostek] in the back in the second game of the season,” Gwilliam said. “She is very composed and she really helps us in the backfield.”
Along with Krostek, O’Toole, a transfer from Syracuse with Big East experience, has helped this defense get to where they are now, Gwilliam said.
“[O’Toole] is another one of those special players on defense,” Gwilliam said. “She is an experienced player and has been our leader on defense.”
At the beginning of this season, the Owls planned to lean on their defense. With an offense that has struggled to this point, a strong defense is something that this program has been trying to instill each year.
“I believe that we have looked to the defense to win us games,” Krostek said. “Offensively, we will find it, but it is the defense that will win close games for us.”
O’Toole said she was unsure what to expect from the defense entering the new season, as the Owls have the youngest roster in the NCAA.
“We have a lot of new faces in the back,” O’Toole said. “With the addition of two freshmen and Krostek that I have never played a game with, we have molded and really come together as a group.”
With a strong overall defense has come strong goalkeeping from the Owls. Temple is ranked No. 12 in the country in save percentage.
“As goalkeepers, we have been doing well,” Murphy said. “We have been defending well and our defense has been shot blocking for us as well.”
Along with Murphy, freshman goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff has provided for a unit that has allowed an average of 0.93 goals per match and a combined five shutouts on the season.
“The goalkeepers play a huge part in our defensive success,” O’Toole said. “They see the whole field and they are constantly communicating with us. They keep us in tact and keep us in line, telling us when to step and when not to step. They are truly unbelievable at communicating with us.”
This season, the Owls have had trouble scoring the ball offensively. Through 14 games, the Owls have scored six goals on the season and have scored two goals since Sept. 9 at Princeton. Temple is tied for No. 314 in the country with .43 goals per game
Through the first six weeks of the season, coach Gwilliam said much of the team’s practice time was spent on defense. Since then, much of practice has been shifted to the offense side after the defense got its rhythm.
“I think we are still trying to figure out how to win games and defensively, we have done well,” Murphy said. “We are still trying to figure some things out, but we are still in a very good position to succeed.”
John Murrow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @johnmurrow12.