They could’ve still been playing – at least for one more week.
But, with the year on the line in the regular season finale against Rutgers, the Owls came up short. Even after the dust settled on the 11-10 loss nearly three weeks ago, it’s still a tough one to take.
“We could be playing right now,” senior attacker Jaymie Tabor said. “It’s hard to think about that, but it is what it is.”
The last week of the season had Temple in contention for the fourth and final seed in the Big East tournament, along with Villanova and Rutgers. And for the Owls at least, the scenario was simple: win and they’re in.
The stage fit the significance of the game pretty well, with the Owls facing the Scarlet Knights under the lights of High Point Solutions Stadium (Rutgers Stadium). There wasn’t anywhere close to the 52,000-plus the stadium could hold, but the families, friends and alumni from each side could be heard loud and clear from the bleachers behind the benches.
Combined with a goal horn and scoreboard videos for the home team, it felt more akin to a hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center than a typical day at Geasey Field.
“Biggest stadium I’ve ever played in,” Tabor said.
“It was a win or lose game,” Tabor added. “Win or go home. All the emotions were so high, but I feel like we handled everything well. We came out really strong, we played well the whole game, we just…the end result wasn’t what we expected. I feel like that happened a lot for us this season, unfortunately.”
Temple had its struggles. The Owls got off to a rocky start, and had trouble with consistency throughout the season.
They had their high points, including a win over Oregon, overcoming a six-goal deficit to beat Hofstra in overtime and conference wins against Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette.
But for each high, there were just as many lows – and that was encapsulated in the Owls’ season finale.
“That last game, as I said, really does represent our season,” coach Bonnie Rosen said. “We were up and down, we won and we lost. We played well and we didn’t play well. Certain players would step up in one game, but maybe not in the other game. We would practice well and then we would practice okay.”
Rosen added that against Rutgers, the team’s performance wasn’t bad.
Temple was down 3-0 within the first ten minutes, but fought back through the rest of the first half and midway through the second to eventually claim the lead, then reclaim it two more times after Rutgers managed to even up the score.
What doesn’t show up in the box score, however, were the chances the Owls had to keep the Scarlet Knights down.
“We didn’t go on the run that puts them away,” Rosen said. “In the end we missed a few opportunities that led to not having a chance to win the game.”
“A few more moments put together in the last game and we win it,” Rosen added. “We just never took it, and I think that’s the difference. I don’t think it slipped away, we just never took it and Rutgers did.”
It was a reality check for the team’s longest tenured player.
“The entire game we felt so confident that that was our game,” graduate defender Nina Falcone said. “Then those last two minutes hit where they got that goal.”
Normally a voice of optimism, Falcone recalled some hesitance in her voice in the final moments.
And when the clock hit zero, there was a lot to take in.
“At the time it was definitely really sad,” Falcone said. “You take a second and reflect on everything that’s happened over the last five years. It definitely felt [sad] that whole night. Then you start to think back and you look at it in a more positive sense, the bittersweet feeling, ‘OK this is over, what’s next?’ But it definitely hits you hard right when it happens.”
So, for Falcone, Tabor, and midfielders Lea Britton and Kelly Syphard, their time in an Owls uniform is up.
“It ended a lot sooner than I thought it was going to end,” Tabor said. “We had a really good chance against Rutgers, we played very well, but we just didn’t come out on top. It was a tough one, but overall, I think we had a good season. I know there were ups and downs but I feel like our good days were really good so I was happy with it.”
Although the Owls will be losing a 30-goal scorer in Tabor, a defensive force in Falcone and two versatile midfielders in Britton and Syphard, the returning group brings promise for next year.
Temple will have three of four All-Big East Second Team members returning next season in sophomore midfielders Nicole Tiernan, Maddie McTigue and redshirt goalkeeper Jaqi Kakalecik. Tabor is the fourth Owl that received second team honors.
There are 22 other players left on the roster, and an incoming recruiting class, on top of that. Then there is the motivation factor.
“Looking back, I would like to say that the loss to Rutgers is going to be the thing that drives our team to train,” Rosen said. “It is going to be the reminder all year that every little moment in practice could be the defining moment in a game.”
“While it’s bittersweet to not be in the championships, at the same time, I do think our loss to Rutgers has the ability to be a pivotal teaching moment for our program,” Rosen added.
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itssnick215.