Owls eager to build off last year’s offensive struggles

Temple University women’s soccer hopes to learn from last season’s mistakes and get back to the American Athletic Conference tournament.

Róisín McGovern, junior defender, prepares to kick the ball at an Owls' game against the University of Tulsa at Temple Sports Complex on Sept. 30, 2021. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After defeating the University of Houston in October 2021, Temple University women’s soccer hoped to put themselves in a position to qualify for their first American Athletic Conference tournament since 2018 by winning back-to-back games for just the second time of the season.  

Instead, the Owls lost their final three games between Oct. 20 and Oct. 28, 2021 and failed to qualify for the tournament for a third straight season because of their inability to score consistently. Head coach Nick Bochette is eager to rid his team of their inconsistencies by converting on shots through changes to their system and roster. 

“Inconsistency is part of the process,” Bochette said. “You can take it one of two ways; you can be frustrated with it and look at our losses or you can look at our wins and see we could get to that level consistently.” 

The Owls have implemented a three-forward system to begin the season, with seniors Gabriela Johnson and Emily Kavanaugh and sophomore Sumaya Togba playing on the front line. Last season, Temple was unable to find a formation that worked consistently. 

In 2021, the Owls finished at the bottom of the conference in goals due to a lack of scoring options. During the offseason, Temple decided finishing their runs in the final third was a way to improve their offense.  

Kavanaugh, who was named to the preseason all-conference team, led the Owls in goals last season and will return as the team’s top offensive option. 

“I came into college playing only as an outside wing,” Kavanaugh said. “I have since adapted into more of an attacking forward, so I play a lot with my back towards the goal and I think one of my biggest strengths is finding the ball in the box.” 

Last season, Kavanaugh was paired with fellow forward Hailey Gutowski, who transferred to Rutgers University for her final year of eligibility on March 25. Gutowski started in 15 of the Owls’ 16 games and scored five goals, which was second most on the team, behind Kavanaugh. This season, Johnson will replace Gutowski at the wing position. During her freshman season, Johnson tallied five goals and was named to the AAC All-Rookie team. 

During the 2020-21 season, Johnson was also tied for the team lead in goals and points through the Owls’ first six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. 

“Me and [Kavanaugh] both have different strengths,” Johnson said. “We help one another where we fall short, and she does a good job of looking for me when her back is facing the net and vice versa.” 

While the Owls applied constant offensive pressure on their opponents, their time spent in the attacking third failed to result in consistent scoring. This year, Bochette emphasized ensuring the team is taking more chances by putting his strikers in positions they can score from. 

“Just taking shots isn’t enough,” Bochette said. “Our attacking players like to be in certain positions when scoring goals, so it is our job to make sure we get them there and our shots are troubling the goalkeeper and have a solid chance to get in.” 

One of the strengths of the Owls’ team is the defensive back line which includes returning junior Róisín McGovern, who started in all 16 games for Temple last season. Other returning defenders include sophomores Phoebe Hollin and Jillian Allgood. Graduate student Erin Theiller will not return after graduating, but she will be replaced with graduate transfer Katie Coritz. 

Temple also welcomed five freshmen as part of their 2022 recruiting class, with defenders Hailey Morris and Brianna Parker, and midfielders Aurrianna Parker, Cecilia Schleinitz, and Lauren SanFelice all joining the program. The freshman class gives the Owls a deeper bench and will allow the team to give regular starters more rest. 

Bochette leaned on his underclassmen right away this season due to the losses of Gutowski and Theiller. SanFelice started both of the Owls’ first two games of the year, while Aurrianna and Brianna Parker have seen time coming off the bench in critical moments. 

 “It is very important to get the chemistry going with our new players,” Kavanaugh added. “Some of our freshmen have gotten a lot of minutes which is important because the quicker we all learn how to play with each other the better.” 

The Owls emphasize ensuring each player is getting better each day by focusing on improving their transition offense and making sure they are not susceptible to counterattacks. The team believes they have the right personnel for a winning season and can make their return to the conference tournament.  

“We believe we have the right group to get there,” Bochette said. “We are still learning the foundational pieces of what it takes to get there, and when we get there, we don’t want to just be there as a ceremonial sacrificial lamb, we want to get there and win games and get a playoff run going.” 

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