While her teammates and coaches hid from sun under a white tent at halftime of Temple’s regular-season opener with Fairleigh Dickinson University, senior defender Paula Jurewicz could be seen in front of her team’s bench, stretching and testing the limits of the brace on her right knee.
She twisted, bended, jumped and did seemingly everything in her power to keep herself limber.
It’s been nearly 10 months since she tore the ACL in her right knee during an American Athletic Conference loss to Memphis last October.
“I definitely want to try and warm up after sitting down for a while,” Jurewicz said. “I have to do a little bit more to get my knee ready for the game and just make sure my whole body is ready; not just my knee.”
No one looked more prepared than Jurewicz from the very outset of the game.
Four minutes in, redshirt sophomore Kayla Cunningham made a looping cross towards Jurewicz, who played the ball perfectly, striking a right-footed shot past senior Fairleigh Dickinson goalkeeper Felecia Burr into the back of the net for her first goal of the young season.
“That’s when sports is good,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “When you see a kid who … the tears and emotion that we’ve been through and when you see her come back in her first game and score, it’s like … you know why we do this and you know why we play sports.”
Jurewicz’s goal was the lone tally at halftime, as the Owls led 1-0. But two second-half scores, one from senior attacking midfielder Kelly Farrell in the 58th minute and the other from sophomore defensive midfielder Elana Falcone in the 72nd minute, sealed a 3-0 victory for Temple over Fairleigh Dickinson in its home opener.
Senior goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff, who was recently named Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year in The American, held the Knights to a clean sheet with two saves in nearly 85 minutes of action before subbing out for freshman goalkeeper Jordan Nash.
“It’s amazing,” Falcone said of playing with Kerkhoff. “I know that because I’m in that center position now, I have our two center backs, which are just … I don’t know, they’re like a brick wall and to know that even behind them there’s still Shauni, it’s just like amazing.”
Falcone had quite a day for herself, maintaining possession of the ball through traffic on multiple plays, passing the ball efficiently and even scoring the first goal of her career.
She played in 13 games last season as a freshman, and had eight shots with one on goal.
“I think coming off of last year and doing really well in the spring season and then coming into this season knowing we’re all on the same page and all on the same game, it helps me get into my own game,” Falcone said. “So like I give full credit to my teammates for that and getting me into my own game so I can play well for them.”
After spending all of last season as an attacking midfielder, Falcone has transitioned into a new position as a defensive midfielder, where she said she is able to see more of the field and distribute the ball more.
O’Connor said Falcone’s play is vital to the team’s continuity.
“We just really saw something in her defensively and just with her passing, her range of passing that we just wanted to get her back there and see and it’s just been working,” he said.
Temple will continue its four-game non-conference homestand on Sunday when the Owls face Delaware State University at 1 p.m.
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tom_reifsnyder