Temple University women’s lacrosse (11-4, 7-3 The American Athletic Conference) is the third seed in The American. The Owls won seven of their last eight games, which allowed them to jump from fourth seed to third.
Temple’s recent surge is due to the strong play of midfielders sophomore Belle Mastropietro and senior Bridget Whitaker, who thrive in one-on-one offense, don’t force bad shots and win the draw. This all will help the Owls go far in The American Athletic Conference Tournament on May 6.
Whitaker and Mastropietro excel at clearing the ball up the field from the defensive end to the attackers, but they take it a step further by frequently joining the rush. They’re the team’s best offensive players and lead the Owls in scoring this season with 67 combined goals.
After sprinting up the field to Temple’s offensive end, Mastropietro and Whitaker are able to maintain their pace to make shots from the top of the circle.
During the team’s recent stretch of strong play, Mastropietro scored 11 goals, while Whitaker scored 22 goals.
“When we’re on the field together, we do a lot together, we work in twos,” Whitaker said. “Having someone that kind of knows what moves you are going to make before you make it, so they can either not be in your way or do something to be open, is extremely helpful.”
In Temple’s win against East Carolina University on April 18, Mastropietro and Whitaker scored six of the team’s 11 goals.
Mastropietro scored the first goal of that game on an assist from Whitaker after they joined the rush with the attackers. Whitaker waited for Mastropietro to run in from the top of the circle before making the pass, setting up a better shot attempt than if she’d charged the net herself.
“They are both so strong at handling the ball, so you can’t just take the ball away from them easily,” said head coach Bonnie Rosen. “They can handle sending the ball with defenders on them and double-teaming. They can handle that pressure and either get around it themselves or move the ball to a teammate who’s free.”
Temple’s ability to win draw controls will be imperative in the AAC tournament because it will give them more opportunities to score on a fast break.
In their win against Vanderbilt on April 23, the Owls won 14 draw controls compared to the Commodores’ 13. Mastropietro and Whitaker combined for six of Temple’s wins, allowing Temple to score two goals right off the draw.
“You can tell from the way their feet set, which way they’re trying to go, so just depending on that, [Whitaker] can decide what she wants to do,” Mastropietro said. “Then she’ll tell the circle of people what to look for and vice versa for myself.”
Mastropietro’s and Whitaker’s physical play styles allow them to succeed in one-versus-one and in free-position shots, which are player-versus-goalie. Both use a fast tempo at the eight-meter line to beat defenders and use a stick fake to throw off the goalkeeper’s idea of shot placement.
In Temple’s loss against the University of Florida on March 19, Mastropietro and Whitaker combined for seven goals in a 15-9 loss. However, each of them converted on free position shots. Mastropietro made 1-of-1 free position shot and Whitaker made 2-of-4 free position shots.
“We just try to get off the line quickly, if you have a good first step you have a better chance of outrunning your defenders,” Mastropietro said. “Then throwing in a fake and finding that awkward spot that the goalie leaves.”
Whitaker and Mastropietro’s ability to communicate with teammates to execute the right play and their understanding of an opponent will carry to other positions on the field and lead to success in the tournament.
“We’re dependent upon them for taking care of the draw, being strong solid defenders and offensively handling the ball, we expect them to be goal scorers right through the end,” Rosen said.