Nicole Kroener is a perfectionist.
But through her first two years at Temple, she admitted to taking that too far toward the realm of extreme.
“Freshman and sophomore year was definitely trying to hold myself to a standard, but not let it debilitate me,” the senior co-captain said. “If I make a mistake, I just need to recover right away and not let it show on the field. Those are some of the things I really had to overcome to make sure I was improving my play.”
She has become the anchor of Temple’s midfield since.
Kroener has started in all of Temple’s games for the past four years. She has started in every game since the beginning of her freshman season.
She played less than 60 minutes in three games during the 2012 season, with 48 minutes being her lowest, and just once in 2013, logging 54 minutes in a 4-0 shutout of Appalachian State.
During those two seasons, the Morgantown native racked up eight goals and 20 assists in 41 starts. Fourteen games into this season, Kroener added three goals and six assists to her career, playing in no less than 60 minutes a game.
The center-mid spot is a two-way position, however, and Kroener, especially during the past few weeks, has held up well defensively. In matchups against Villanova and La Salle last weekend, both teams struggled to move the ball up through the middle of the field, with Kroener seemingly on top of any pass that came across.
“When I step into a position, I usually think ‘OK, what are the responsibilities and the roles that I’m supposed to do? What main objectives do I need to fulfill?’” Kroener said. “So when I go into center-mid, I think of it as I’m a distributor, and a passer and a playmaker.”
That job comes with having to handle how the team transitions from defense to offense.
“Getting the ball from one side of the field to the other,” Kroener said. “Not necessarily taking on five players, but maybe eliminating one person, drawing another girl’s defender and distributing her.”
“And as a defensive [central midfielder], most of the time I’m marking one of the forwards,” Kroener added. “Helping [junior defender Taylor Shronk] mark one of the forwards to keep the ball out of our defensive 16, so that backs don’t have to deal with that.”
All while providing support up front when needed. Basically, “it’s a whole mix of roles that I need to do,” Kroener said.
Recalling her time at Twin Valley High School, Kroener said she always took a mentality of being willing to play wherever the coach needed her, even though she knows her strengths probably lie best at midfield.
But for a few games, she was needed to step in at defensive center back. Shronk injured her right thumb off a deflected shot during a 5-0 win against Kent State on Sept. 27. Although Shronk was able to play through the injury, making the start the next day against American University, she rotated in and out of the center back spot with Kroener.
“It worked well,” Shronk said. “[Kroener] knows the game, she can see the field as well, she knows the spots. For her to drop back there, it definitely helps out the team because she does a great job, back there, especially if I can’t be in there to help out.”
“It was pretty seamless,” Shronk added. “Nicole’s a great defender in the midfield, so naturally she is a great defender in the backfield.”
It ended up being a move that, even though it was at a position she doesn’t have as much experience in, Kroener was able to pull off. Transition isn’t anything new to her.
“I kind of like playing defense a little bit more, because I can sit back and see the whole field,” Kroener said. “I also played defense in soccer in high school as well. I’ve played a lot of sports in different positions, so transition for me is not that hard of a task.”
Both players have since returned to their usual positions, with the team looking to limit its mistakes and fix up any holes as the postseason begins to draw near. At 11-5 (2-1 Big East), with three regular season games left, the goal is still the same from the start of the season: get to the NCAA tournament.
“We were so close last year,” Kroener said. “I don’t see the season ending until we make it to the [NCAA tournament] and go as far as we can.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @itssnick215