Temple’s on-field performance wasn’t the problem last season.
Getting its best players on the field, however, was a constant struggle.
It was not a lack of motivation, but an abundance of injuries that kept some key Owls sidelined throughout the 2014 season, in which the team posted a record of 11-8-1.
Early on, the team was playing some of the best soccer in program history, tallying a school-record seven consecutive wins during non-conference play to start the season.
But it didn’t take long for the dreaded injury bug to creep up on the Owls.
Already having lost junior midfielder Paige Rachel to a torn ACL in the preseason, the Owls took yet another blow to their depth chart as junior defender Paula Jurewicz went down with an ACL tear of her own in an American Athletic Conference loss in October to the University of Memphis.
“I think that’s a big part for any team, just avoiding the injury bug,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “We just started running out of players with experience and ability to play at that level.”
“We just didn’t have the depth,” O’Connor added.
The two injuries left major holes in the Owls’ lineup that proved difficult to fill during conference play, which resulted in a record of three wins, five losses and a tie; good for eighth place in the 10-team league.
“It’s just such a tough conference,” O’Connor said. “It’s absolutely incredible. It’s such a battle and it’s such a long season and I think we’re trying to solve that puzzle. That’s the biggest problem that we’re trying to solve right now.”
O’Connor’s main focus for his players this offseason is to recover from previous injuries and get back into top shape, starting with rising seniors Rachel and Jurewicz, who have been training with assistant strength and conditioning coach Sam Whitney since sustaining their ACL injuries last fall.
“Those two are absolute warriors, and it’s been absolutely phenomenal watching them [recover].” O’Connor said. “For Paula, that was her first [ACL injury], so she really just knuckled down, but for Paige that was her third, which is really, really impressive to come back from that.”
O’Connor knows Rachel and Jurewicz are “champing at the bit” to get back on the field in 2015, but he’s being cautious to avoid bringing them back too early. He plans on easing the two back into action in hopes of preserving their health for conference play.
“The biggest challenge for us is just trying to manage the playing time in the non-conference so that the players are fresher come conference time, because it’s just such a challenge every single game and they’re all so close,” O’Connor said.
Whitney has been crucial to the rehabilitation of both Rachel and Jurewicz in recent months, and he’s in for a much bigger role with the Owls this season to further ensure the team’s health going forward.
Per the athletic department’s approval, Whitney will travel with the team for all road games on the 2015 schedule.
O’Connor said Whitney’s presence will provide a sizable boost to the team’s overall health and conditioning, which has often suffered during long conference road trips.
“We’re hoping that he can really help us,” O’Connor said. “It really starts to become less about the soccer and it becomes more about the recovery.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tom_reifsnyder