‘Huge’ first-half helps women’s soccer beat Houston

Redshirt-senior forward Kayla Cunningham assisted both goals in the first half of Temple’s 2-0 win against Houston on Thursday at the Temple Sports Complex.

Redshirt-senior forward Kayla Cunningham takes a shot on goal during a practice drill at the Temple Sports Complex on Wednesday. JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Owls did something they hadn’t done in more than 10 years on Sept. 17.

They scored eight goals in their win against Delaware State University at the Temple Sports Complex. But after that game, their offense struggled. They entered Thursday’s game against Houston with only three goals in four American Athletic Conference games and hadn’t scored a first-half goals since their rout of the Hornets.

Temple (6-6-2, 2-2-1 The American) scored twice in the first 20 minutes to defeat Houston, 2-0, on Thursday afternoon at the Temple Sports Complex. Redshirt-senior forward Kayla Cunningham, who leads the team with five assists, set up both goals.

“Getting out to a lead in the first half definitely helps us out way more,” freshman midfielder Emma Wilkins said. “We haven’t been doing as well as we wanted to putting away goals in conference games, so to get two scores early was huge tonight.”

Wilkins scored the Owls’ second goal, her third of the season, from the top of the box in the 18th minute.

Senior forward Gabriella McKeown scored her fifth goal of the season, beating Cougars freshman goalkeeper Kate Godfrey from the left side of the box at the 14-minute, 23-second mark. McKeown leads the Owls in goals and points this season.

“We practice plays with the box congested,” McKeown said. “I knew as soon as I beat the first two defenders that I’d have a good look, so I just hit it as hard as I could while putting it on net.”

Coach Seamus O’Connor has emphasized converting scoring chances to his team in practices. He said he saw a difference in his team’s ability to execute against the Cougars.

Despite being outshot 18-13 on Thursday, Temple won its third game in which it recorded fewer shots than its opponent.

“The difference [in converting on scoring chances] has to be the entire team’s confidence level in our ability to score,” O’Connor said. “I was able to spend a lot of time with the attackers on this last road trip watching film, and we knew tonight we knew we were going to have in advantage in our speed.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Morgan Basileo made three saves to record her fourth shutout of the season. Freshman defender Marissa DiGenova played 27 minutes in her first action since Sept. 17 against Delaware State. She has nine games played, two starts and two shots on goal this season.

Before Thursday, Temple had one win in its last five games. With the victory, the Owls increased their point total to seven and briefly moved into fifth place in The American. The top six teams make the conference tournament.

“These conference games at the end of the season are all huge because we’re sitting here fighting for a playoff spot,” O’Connor said. “Houston is in a similar position and they came in here and they thought they were going to take all three points off of us. And so it felt really good to show them who we are.”

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