Field hockey coach Lauren Fuchs has seen her share of talented teams this season. But during her 12-year tenure at Temple, Fuchs has never seen a team like this year’s Richmond Spiders.
“Richmond is a really strong team, so strong that every single person on our team needs to be on their A-game just to beat them,” Fuchs said. “To beat them, we need to outrun them, out-pass them, out-gut the ball, and do just about everything perfect.”
The Owls (9-10, 3-3) will face off against Richmond today in the first round of the Atlantic Ten championship at the University of Massachusetts. Last weekend, the Owls lost their season finale, but backed into the tournament when West Chester, their primary opponent for the last playoff spot, lost its final game. The Owls have backed themselves against a wall by drawing the Spiders as their first-round opponent.
The history between the two teams has been anything but competitive. Just last season, Richmond beat the Owls easily to take home the A-10 crown. But Temple’s futility against Richmond spans more than just one calendar year. The Owls have not defeated the Spiders in the regular season or in a playoff contest. Richmond hasn’t lost an A-10 matchup in over three seasons.
Junior defender Katie Stevenson thinks now is the time to change of that.
“We’re coming into this [game] thinking about the past because we have a vendetta against them,” Stevenson said. “I know we are the only team in the conference who is capable of knocking them out. It’s a combination of talent and knowing about the past that we’ll be able to go out and win. The fact that Richmond hasn’t lost in a long time means that they don’t know what it is like to lose.”
In their regular season meeting Oct. 9, the Owls were dominated on both ends of the field, losing 4-0. The Owls pushed the ball into the Spiders’ offensive end for the first time near the conclusion of the first half. As a team, they registered just one shot, by senior forward Andrea Duva midway through the second half. By then, Richmond held a 3-0 advantage, and the game was out of reach.
Such dominance can be traced back to the recent successes of Richmond juniors Holly Cram and Michelle Swartz. Cram, who is in her first season on the collegiate level, hasn’t made the typical rookie mistakes. Instead, the well-acclimated midfielder led the A-10 in scoring with 25 goals and 57 points. She also led the conference in shots per game and in game-winning goals with nine.
Swartz has been similarly overwhelming this season. Richmond’s goalkeeper led the conference with seven shutouts and a 0.67 goals-against average. At one point, Swartz hadn’t surrendered a goal in over four games, including the match against Temple.
This week, the Owls were making preparations in practice to adapt their game to that of Cram and Swartz.
“In order to keep up with [Cram], I had my girls work on their press this week,” Fuchs said. “We’ll be trying to generate something from that.
“As for [Swartz], if we jump on her early, we can take her out [of the game],” she added. “We have to make her make saves and make [the Spiders] earn their goals.”
The Owls will have their hands full trying to prove themselves to the Spiders. Stevenson said the first-round matchup will define the 2004 season.
“We have had an entire season that hasn’t gone the way we have wanted it to go,” Stevenson said. “We want to come out and bring everything we’ve got against Richmond so that the rest of the conference will know that our regular season wasn’t the way we are capable of playing.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.