Owls aim for first NCAA tournament bid since 1985

Temple looks to win their conference for an automatic bid to NCAA postseason play.

Senior midfielder Hermann Doerner practices at Temple Sports Complex on Sept. 19. | HANNAH BURNS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After Temple’s 1-0 victory against Central Florida on Sept. 21, senior midfielder Hermann Doerner talked to the Knights’ captain.

Central Florida’s captain told Doerner his team anticipated a fight against the Owls and was impressed with their play. Coaches voted Central Florida No.1 in the preseason American Athletic Conference poll, while Temple came in at No. 6.

Now, the Owls (3-5-2, 1-1 The American) are one of five teams tied for third place in the conference standings with five points, while there are two teams tied with four. The Owls found themselves in this position with a win against the Knights and a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday in Ohio. Before this season, the last time Temple opened conference play with a win was in 2014 when it beat Cincinnati, 2-0.

“We’re happy, and we definitely hope that no team underestimates us,” Doerner said. “We got off with a huge win at home, starting off the conference well, so we’re definitely excited to try to keep that momentum going.”

The conference opener began a so-called “sub-season,” coach Brian Rowland said. All teams start conference play with a 0-0 record, regardless of their record in non-conference games. Conference standings are only affected by schools’ performances against other schools in The American.

“In conference, everyone knows the win is more valuable than a win in another game,” Doerner said. “It’s definitely more intense.”

Of the eight teams in The American, the six with the most points in the regular season will advance to the conference tournament. Last season, only four teams moved on to the tournament, including Temple. It entered the tournament as the fourth seed after finishing 4-3 in The American. 

The Owls faced Southern Methodist in the first round of the tournament last year and lost, 4-0, ending their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. 

This season, Temple’s goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament remains unchanged. To accomplish this, the Owls will have to either earn one of the 24 at-large bids or win their conference tournament, which would give an automatic bid for qualification. Since the Owls have only played two conference games this season it is too early to determine whether they will receive bid, as they have eight games remaining, with five of them being conference matchups.

“We’ve all got one state of mind to win everything,” junior defender Akeem Prawl said. “Hopefully, we win all the conference games and stay on top.”

Still, the Owls know reaching their goal won’t be easy. Five of the eight teams in The American have received votes or been ranked in the United Soccer Coaches Poll at some point during the season. 

“Our conference is really strong,” Rowland said. “I believe in our group, and I think being able to test ourselves against good opponents in our conference is certainly why a lot of the guys are here.”

The Owls added 17 new players this offseason and returned just 12. Some of the team is accustomed to the elevated play of conference games, but more than half the team saw its first conference action less than two weeks ago. 

Rowland, a first-year coach, is also new to The American. He previously worked as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland, which is in the Big Ten Conference.

“Getting to know the conference is good learning for me, to get familiar with some of the venues and some of the opponents will only help,” Rowland said. “I’m excited to get to see some of these teams in person and start to get a feel for the conference more intimately.”

Just as Rowland prepares for the remaining five conference games, the team, including the new players, understand the importance of these games to achieving its goals.

“I’m really excited, and we hope to do our best,” Prawl said. “I’m going really hard.”

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