‘Junk-ball’ mentality helps field hockey captain score goals

Rachael Mueller leads the Owls with five goals, including Sunday’s overtime game-winner.

The Owls celebrate senior midfielder Rachael Mueller's goal in overtime that gave the team a 3-2 win against Sacred Heart University on Sunday at Howarth Field. | CHIA YU LIAO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Rachael Mueller did whatever she could in the second half to initiate another goal as the Owls unsuccessfully tried to upset top-ranked Connecticut on Friday.

She moved to try to get in open space for a pass. Mueller also pressured the Huskies’ defense by chasing the ball down in the last 10 minutes to try to force an error to produce an extra goal.

Mueller’s work paid off with a win Sunday against Sacred Heart University. She flagged down a pass in overtime and beat the goalkeeper in a one-on-one matchup to win the Owls’ third game of the season.

The senior midfielder has continued to be the dominant force for the Owls’ attack, just as she was in 2016.

Mueller led the Owls in goals with 10 as a junior and ranked third on the team in shots on goal with 20.

Nine games into her senior season, Mueller is once again leading the Owls in scoring with five goals. Mueller also leads the team in shots on goal and total shots.

“I don’t care how the ball gets in the net,” Mueller said. “No matter how pretty or unpretty, I just do everything I can to score to help the team win.”

The difference this season for Mueller is she is also contributing with her passing game. As a junior, she did not have any assists. This season, she leads Temple with four assists.

She attributes her increase in assists to a position change in the offseason. Rather than being a player coming on the second wave of penalty-corner tries to score goals, Mueller is now playing as a stick stopper — the player who receives the initial pass. Mueller is now the go-to player on penalty corners to set up her teammates for open shots.

The improved passing in Mueller’s game has coach Marybeth Freeman excited.

“To us, an assist is just as good as a goal,” Freeman said. “It really is. It means that she is working with her teammates in a positive, collaborative environment, and that is the kind of hockey we’re trying to play.”

Mueller has provided a spark for Temple’s offense right before the majority of conference play. In the last four games, Temple has scored nine goals compared to just three goals in the first four games. Mueller has three goals and two assists in the most recent four-game stretch.

The team has incorporated its midfield into the attack to create more favorable matchups on offense, Mueller said.

“Now it’s not like three forwards going against four defenders,” she added. “The added numbers is definitely what’s helping us put the ball in the back of the net.”

Redshirt-senior forward Sarah Keer has found her rhythm offensively alongside Mueller. Keer finished fourth on the team with 10 points in 2016 and is third with six this year.

Keer and Mueller are often grouped together, whether it be in practice or during a game when the two are subbed out at similar times.

With Mueller and Keer starting to get the offense going, Temple looks to improve its attack. The Owls are 62nd in Division I with a 1.44 goals per game average.

“She probably won’t like me saying this, but Rachael is kind of a junk-ball player,” Keer said. “She likes to get the touches in and the unconventional passes to get around the goalie, and I’m more of a hard hitter. But our difference in styles play off of each other in a kind of unique way on the field.”

Mueller laughed at being called “a junk-ball player.”

“I would describe my play as putting the ball in the net when the ball needs to be put in the net,” Mueller said. “I’m there for the rebounds with a lot of feistiness and grit.”

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