Coach Seamus O’Connor and his team have hit on all of their targets this year, except one.
First on O’Connor’s agenda, the Owls (12-6-1, 4-4-1 American Athletic Conference) defeated city-rival La Salle for the first time in 13 years Sept. 18. Then, the team recorded its first win in five games against Southern Methodist Oct. 22.
Temple even managed to accomplish what O’Connor said may have been its most “lofty” goal—to win 12 games and set a new program record for single-season victories.
“We achieved so much this year that it’s kind of like putting coins into a meter, like our confidence meter, and now we’re pretty full,” O’Connor said. “Defeating La Salle, defeating SMU, getting 12 wins … We just feel like we can beat anybody.”
Now, the Owls, the No. 6 seed in The American’s conference tournament, will attempt to hit their final target when they take on No. 3 seed Central Florida in the first round in Dallas, Texas, tonight at 7 p.m.
The Knights, who are on a five-game winning streak, won The American’s regular-season conference championship in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s kind of interesting that two of the hottest teams at the moment end up playing each other because they’re on a five-game streak and then we’re on a three-game win streak, so it should be a very, very good game,” O’Connor said.
Temple is 0-2 in the first round of the conference tournament since the inception of The American in 2013.
Southern Methodist has been the proverbial thorn in the Owls’ side the past two postseasons, defeating O’Connor’s team 2-1 last year and 3-0 in 2013.
O’Connor said beating the Mustangs 3-2 this season—with two goals in the last five minutes of regulation—gave his team the necessary confidence to break through in the first round this year.
“At the start of the year, we broke down our targets into smaller, manageable targets, and, so far, we’ve hit every single one of our targets,” O’Connor said. “And then, beating SMU now gives us the confidence that we can go in here and accomplish that other goal we had of winning a conference tournament game as well.”
Central Florida has beaten the Owls each of their last three meetings since joining The American.
The Owls opened conference play Sept. 24 with a 1-0 loss to the Knights in Orlando, Florida. Central Florida outshot Temple 19-4 and the Knights’ redshirt-sophomore midfielder Kayla Adamek scored the game-winning goal in the 43rd minute.
Temple’s loss to Central Florida was the first in a string of 1-0 defeats to the conference’s Top 3 teams, including The American’s No. 1 seed, Connecticut, and No. 2 seed South Florida.
Senior defensive midfielder Shannon Senour said she and her teammates were too passive in their previous matchup with the Knights, and she expects to see a much different strategy from the Owls this time around.
“The first time we played UCF, our game plan was kind of just to sit back a little and rest our legs and kind of get a feel for it to see what we had coming at us and, once we went down 1-0, we realized we had to change something,” Senour said. “Then in the second half we were killing it and I think that gave us the confidence that we can definitely stick with this team.”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Reifsnyder.