Coach Seamus O’Connor’s team had high expectations this season to put his program on the map. However, its fastest start in school history was something not even the players had expected of themselves.
“It wasn’t something we even dreamed about, going 5-0,” O’Connor said.
After a 4-0 start last season, which was the best start in the program’s history at the time, the Owls struggled down the stretch ending with a 6-12-1 record.
Going into their second season in the American Athletic Conference, O’Connor and his team felt they had improved and were confident in their ability to compete.
“You get the feeling that you’re going to be successful like the first practice,” junior goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff said. “We just had quality forwards and quality defenders, it just connected. I thought we could be successful but I didn’t know we’d be this successful.
“I didn’t know we could top last year and we did.”
The Owls went into last week ranked No. 8 in the Northeast Region by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, but the team faced two big challenges with away games at Rider and Drexel.
After a 3-0 win against the Broncs on Wednesday, the Owls scratched out a 3-2 win against the Dragons on Sunday to end the week unbeaten.
Senior Alyssa Kirk recalls a trip to Drexel in her freshman year where the Owls lost 4-1 to the Dragons.
Kirk, who scored a goal in Sunday’s game, feels proud of where the program stands today compared to three years ago.
“Seeing the difference between how we played then to how we play now, it really is amazing,” Kirk said.
Last season the team often found itself on the losing side of a number of one goal games. This year, the Owls have already won two tightly contested matches – a 1-0 win against St. Joe’s and the 3-2 defeat of Drexel.
One major reason for the Owls’ success in these contests is their improved strength and conditioning which continues to stand out late in games.
O’Connor said strength and conditioning coach Sam Whitney has been a major reason for this. O’Connor also sees a change in the mindset of his players playing a big role in their winning ways, which he also credits to Whitney.
“As much as Sam is our strength and conditioning coach, he’s been working on the psychology of the girls as well,” O’Connor said. “Getting them to change their attitude from last year where they felt inferior to this year now they feel equal if not better than all the teams they play,” O’Connor said.
Being 5-0 and regionally ranked is unmarked territory for the Owls. O’Connor said he feels the character of his team will make sure that the success will not cloud their focus. The team will continue to have a game by game approach as they prepare for their opponents.
“It’s a cool bunch of girls. They’re very cool, relaxed,” O’Connor said. “We don’t let them get to high about it. Right now we’re onto the next game. That’s all they’re thinking about.”
Kirk feels the transition from underdog will present its challenges, as their record garners more attention.
“Being 5-0 now this is kind of tough,” Kirk said. “Everyone wants to beat us. Everyone wants to ruin our season, ruin our day.”
While the team knows that there is still work left to do, they are excited about the effects that their winning will have in the future for Temple women’s soccer.
Kerkhoff, who had two diving saves in the final minutes of the Drexel game, has been blown away by the response to the Owls’ strong start.
“We’ve made a name for ourselves. People underestimated us,” Kerkhoff said. “People wrote us off. We are definitely putting ourselves on the map. At our school we’re being recognized and we’ve never had that either. We’re getting the respect that we deserve. I just want this to carry on for years to come.”
The game against Drexel highlighted some of the major differences in this year’s team compared to past seasons.
“We have so many goal scorers on this team. It is great to see a wide range of peope scoring,” Kerkoff said.
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org