For O’Connor, transfer students playing vital roles

Kayla Cunningham leads a revamped offensive attack.

Kayla Cunningham was homesick.

Last fall, she was playing field hockey in the Big Ten Conference at Indiana University.

Originally from Whitehall High School, Cunningham said she felt Indiana was too far from home. She also heard about Temple from Owls’ sophomore midfielder Elaine Byerly, a former club teammate of Cunningham’s.

Despite having not played last season per the NCAA’s transfer policy, Cunningham said she feels playing for her club team this summer helped her wear off some of the rust.

“Playing on the summer league team did help me get back into things like shooting and first touch, also getting a little experience playing with girls that do play in college,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham joins a new-look attacking unit for the Owls that also features sophomore Gina DiTaranto and junior Kelly Farrell.

“Their presence up front has been fantastic,” coach Seamus O’Connor said.

The aggressive, attacking style of play was something missing from the Owls last season, a season in when they scored just 17 goals. Whether it’s been pushing the ball forward or getting more shots on goal, this year’s squad has been able to wear down opponents along with enjoying more scoring opportunities.

The additions of DiTaranto and Cunningham and the continued growth of Farrell, a sophomore, are a big part of it.

DiTaranto, a Strath Haven High School product, said she transferred from the University of Delaware two years ago because she thought another school would give her a better opportunity to develop as a player.

This season, DiTaranto has provided quite the scoring punch for the Owls as she is tied with Farrell for a team-leading four goals. The center midfielder gives credit to her coach for how easy it has been to adjust to her new team this season.

“[O’Connor] is a great communicator and from the start understood my situation and made me feel comfortable making the transition,”DiTaranto said. “He has given me my confidence back and enabled me to enjoy the game again.”

Farrell, a Southern New Jersey native out of Timber Creek High School, transferred from Old Dominion two years ago. Farrell wanted to be closer to home and felt Old Dominion wasn’t a good fit for her after a change in coaching staff took place before she joined the team. Her club soccer coach, a friend of O’Connor’s, suggested Temple might suit her better.

The junior, who switches between forward and attacking midfielder, transitioned well to the Owls last season in leading the team with three assistant and tying for the team-lead with seven points.

O’Connor, though, said he wants Farrell to take on a new role. He wants her to be more aggressive taking shots rather than just setting up her teammates. Farrell, who is tied for a team-leading 15 shots with Cunningham, has already surpassed her 12 attempts on goal from last season.

With a year of collegiate experience on her side and newfound confidence in her scoring abilities, Farrell said she feels she is always ready to put pressure on the defense.

“My first thought when I receive the ball is ‘attack the goal’ or if that’s not an option to set someone else with a good opportunity at net,” Farrell said.

The three have already built some chemistry on the field. Farrell has been impressed by how comfortably the three have played together.

“You would never be able to tell that [we] have only played together for only about a month now,” Farrell said. “It’s crazy. I always know where they are going to run or where they will play the ball.  Spending everyday with each other and practicing three times a day during preseason, [we] really built a lot of chemistry together.”

Owen McCue can be reached at                               

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