The field hockey team fell to Connecticut, the defending national champion, last weekend in the Big East finals – but its fate wouldn’t be decided until later that night.
At 10 p.m., the selections for the NCAA tournament were announced and Temple was not among the squads selected for an at-large bid.
Despite the loss, the Owls are trying to see the bright side in what was a historically successful season for the program.
The field hockey team finished its season nationally-ranked for the first time in 12 years last fall, and after an offseason of training, the team returned for a 2014 campaign in which it not only replicated that success, but took it a step further with its first-ever appearance in the Big East Conference championship game.
“We had a great season last year,” coach Amanda Janney said. “We really surprised some people. This year wasn’t a surprising one. People knew we were a strong team, being ranked nationally all year.”
“[We] earned the respect of other coaches, that they’re voting us in the Top 20,” Janney added. “It’s a good step for the program. I think our [2-1 win against Old Dominion] on Friday was outstanding, that we’re capable of beating really strong teams like that. It’s a nice sign of where the program is and where we’re going.”
The team has come a long way throughout the career of senior midfielder and co-captain Nicole Kroener.
“This year we beat a lot of teams that we struggled with in the past, and we beat them handily,” Kroener said. “I’m extremely proud of our team for that. Stepping up to the plate and backing our stance from last year.”
“The teams that we lost against, they were the Top 5 teams in the nation, and we gave them a good fight,” she added. “We never let anyone walk over us without giving them a challenge. I think we are the real deal and we proved that this year.”
Temple lost to No. 3 Connecticut, last year’s national champion, in the championship game 4-1, a contest that would have given the Owls an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament with a victory.
The Owls still had a shot at the tournament via an at-large bid, but the NCAA’s selection show on Sunday night left them out of it, ending their season and the collegiate careers of Kroener, goalkeeper Lizzy Millen and forward Amber Youtz.
“It sucks, it’s upsetting,” Youtz said after Sunday’s game. “But if you’re going to go down, at least you go down to the returning national champs.”
The Owls, who finished the regular season with a No. 16 ranking in Division I, went into the Big East Tournament set for a rematch against then-No. 19 Old Dominion in the semifinal. The Monarchs had previously beaten Temple 3-2 on Oct. 17, despite the Owls having climbed back from a 2-0 hole.
In the semifinal, Temple found itself in a similar situation, falling into a 1-0 deficit early. But this time the outcome was different, with sophomore forward Katie Foran and Youtz, who would eventually be named to the conference’s All-Tournament team with Kroener and Millen, scoring the next two goals to give Temple the lead.
The defense was able to take it from there, and hold off Old Dominion until the final horn sounded.
After the game, sophomore midfielder Paige Gross said that even though the team fell behind, each player knew they weren’t going to lose that game. Kroener said the Owls carried that same mentality into the title game against top-seeded UConn.
But after falling into a 3-0 hole by halftime, Temple couldn’t pull one more comeback out of its pocket, losing to the Huskies 4-1.
“At halftime we just talked to each other, like, ‘Hey, we have nothing to lose at this point and we’re not going home without giving it all we have,’” Kroener said. “I just said to the girls, ‘You have to give them hell, and that’s all we can do.’”
“I think we went out giving them a fight,” Kroener added. “I’m proud of the girls for that. Obviously, I hoped we would have had a better outcome, but it is what is it is at this point. I don’t think at any point was anyone just ready to pack up their bags and head out. Everyone fought until the very end.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter at @itssnick215