Fans of the Temple Owls couldn’t help but have flashbacks of the 2012 season following consecutive shutout losses last week.
The 2013 Owls don’t appreciate the comparison.
“The girls are really pissed,” coach Seamus O’Connor said on Sept. 12. “[The loss to Rider] changed everybody’s opinion of them. [The spectators] look at it as ‘You lost two in a row? I guess the lucky streak is over.’”
The streak may be over, but nearly halfway through the 2013 season, Temple has proven it is one of the strongest groups in years after earning the program’s best start in more than a decade.
“I think we wanted to prove everyone wrong,” sophomore defender Taylor Trusky said “We started out so strong and everyone was surprised, which was a good thing and a bad thing”.
After eight games played, Temple has earned a 5-2-1 record, better than any Owls start since 2000, when they went 6-2. Temple’s overall record has been a result of recent strides made on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
In the last two seasons coached under Matt Gwilliam, the Owls averaged five victories, with a combined record of 5-10-1 in the first eight games of each season. Temple’s season average between the last two seasons was 11.5 goals, seven assists and 30 combined points.
Through eight games in 2013, the Temple offense has recorded 10 goals, nine assists and 29 total points.
“[The players] know the difference between how we played last year and this year,” O’Connor said. “The number of chances we’re creating, the fact that the ball isn’t in the other team’s half most of the game is a huge change from last year. We can see the girls are smart, intelligent, have good soccer brains and they can see that we’re totally dominating and it’s a completely different style of play this year.”
Defensively, in the 39 games played between 2011 and 2012, the Owls registered a combined average .775 save percentage and averaged six shutouts per year. In the two year span, Temple allowed nearly 18 shots per game.
This season, sophomore goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff has recorded a .920 save percentage and six shutouts largely due to a defense that has allowed less than nine shots per game.
“I think the key to our defense has been communication and chemistry,” sophomore defender Paula Jurewicz said. “I think the team as a whole is really close. Our team, across the entire field, the communication is great. We’re talkative off the field, and on the field, it’s even better. We’re not afraid to yell at each other.”
For the Owls, the true indicator of the strides they have made as a team is their 2013 opponents’ approach to games. O’Connor noted that their opponents have treated his players as more of a threat than they have been used to in recent years.
“Because of the 4-0 start, Temple women’s soccer became a big game for everybody,” O’Connor said. “Instead of going all out, [our opponents] were defensive. [The coaching staff] talked about it with the girls that this is indirectly a huge compliment. It is unique that teams are now fearful of us and when they play us, they sit back and force us to go win the game. It’s a compliment to you, but also a challenge to you. The better programs are always the favorites in each game, and we want to be one of the better programs.”
Though the Owls want to make it clear to outsiders looking in that this year’s team is a legitimate conference contender, O’Connor said the team must not lean on their early achievements as a forecast for the rest of the season.
Temple’s last winning season was in 2000, when the Owls finished 11-9 (4-6 Atlantic-10). With a similarly strong start, the 2013 Owls are in good company, but time will tell if the current Owls will replicate their predecessors’ success.
“Enjoy it,” O’Connor said “Keep it going and put those memories away until after the season, and then we can clap ourselves on the back. [The players are] having a great season, but we’ll wait until the season is over to congratulate ourselves.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.