After finishing No. 17 in Division I last year, field hockey’s backfield has a different mentality this fall.
“It’s a lot more pressure,” junior Sarah Deck said. “This circle, this goal, is my house. I will protect it.”
Listed as a midfielder on Temple’s roster, Deck was moved to defense in the spring, playing on the right side with juniors Rachel Steinman on the left and Taylor Shronk at center.
“You can’t take the same risks you can in the midfield,” Deck said. “There is no dribbling the ball up the field. You can afford to take that risk because you have a line behind you. You don’t have that option anymore. You are the last line of the defense.”
Even though things are done more quietly on the defensive end, the recognition not as high and the individual stats not nearly as reflective of performance as they would be on the offensive side, the importance on the field can’t be mistaken.
The backfield of Steinman, Shronk and Deck played the majority, if not all, of Temple’s first four contests, combining with redshirt senior goalkeeper Lizzy Millen and junior goalkeeper Haley Mitchell to hold opponents to an average of 1.50 goals per game.
The Owls allowed three goals in their three opening wins against Northeastern, the University of Massachusetts and Rutgers, before getting shut out by Duke 3-0 on Sunday.
So far, Temple’s defense has risen to the occasion after losing one of its anchors in Molly Doyle at the end of last season.
“It’s hard losing her,” Steinman said. “But I think we were able to fill those gaps, and on the defense we definitely stepped up.”
“All of our seniors, they’re always such big impacts,” the co-captain added. “They always give it their all in their last year, and Molly was such an amazing player and leader that it was awesome to have her in the middle.”
“But moving on now, we have new seniors and they’re all stepping up, so are our underclassmen. We just have so many more people stepping up this year and filling in those gaps.”
While Temple lost Doyle, who was on a 2013 squad that held opponents to 1.60 goals per game, as a player, she was still able to remain a part of the team, being brought in as a volunteer coach while preparing to go into law school.
“All the help we can get is great,” Steinman said. “Molly knows our system so well, and her graduating and her playing last year, she just knows how the defense should work.”
Moving from the field to the sidelines also has Doyle seeing the team from a new perspective.
“I’m definitely looking through a more analytical and critical eye,” Doyle said. “Things I would never really focus on because I was trying to improve my own game.”
“It’s phenomenal,” Deck said. “As good a player as she is, I think she is even better as a coach.
“She really knows the style, the formations. She knows how to be a strong definitive person, telling you where you need to be and why you need to be there.”
Deck added that having Doyle as a coach is also helping Shronk become more of a leader at center.
“It’s really helping [Taylor] learn how to be like that,” Deck said. “More demanding, expect more out of your teammates, which is going to make us better.”
“I mean it’s big shoes to fill with the seniors last year as the starting center to play there,” Shronk said. “It’s definitely a big step up.”
While Temple enjoyed a successful run last year, it struggled against teams that roll out fast-paced offenses like Maryland and the University of Connecticut, squads that are no strangers to the Top 10 rankings.
“[Steinman, Shronk and Deck are] going to be a really integral part of shutting those teams out, and I think they’ll definitely have a few really good games,” Doyle said.
“I think they really know and recognize those good teams, and when they have to step up defensively,” she added.
“So I think they’ll have no problem with those teams that we struggled with last year.”
They’re going to have to step up, as the Owls won’t be able to avoid those types of teams.
“We have a lot of great opponents on our schedule,” coach Amanda Janney said. “They’re going to get tested with those Top 10 teams.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @itssnick215