Owls struggle to retain national ranking in 1st year with new coach

After a 3-5 start to the season, the field hockey team is unranked for the first time since September 2013.

Temple dropped out of the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Coaches’ poll last week for the first time since September 2013.

The Owls lost three of their last five matches. Through eight games this year, the team has one fewer loss than its 2014 regular-season loss total.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” senior captain and midfielder Sarah Deck said. “But we knew this was going to be a year of transition with [coach Marybeth Freeman] coming in, and we knew we lost some good talent last year. With that, I personally like being in this position because being the underdog is an advantage. People don’t expect much of you, and we’re sitting in that spot right now.”

The Owls rank in the Top 30 of Division I teams in offensive statistics like assists per game, goals per game, penalty corners per game and points per game among Division I teams.

However, Temple has not been as efficient as it wants on offense, putting 49.2 percent of its shots on goal and scoring at a 19.2 percent clip.

In contrast, the Owls’ opponents have put 63.5 percent of their shots on goal and scored on 22.5 percent of their shots.

Deck said offensive efficiency has been a point of emphasis from the coaching staff recently.

“The last three days, we have done the same drill in practice involving possession because that is a big part of our efficiency,” Deck said. “When we are [up the field] it’s great, but actually getting it up there has been the problem. The possession passes through the midfield is something that we have been focusing on, and we will continue to work on.”

Through the first eight games of 2015, the Temple defense has allowed an average of 5.5 penalty corners per game. In 2014, the team allowed 4.9 corners per contest.

Additionally, the Owls’ 2.88 goals against average ranks outside the Top 50, while every other school in the Big East Conference is ranked inside the Top 50.

Senior backer Rachel Steinman insists the back line of the squad has continued to get better, emphasizing communication as one of the immediate needs.

“We have been improving throughout the season for sure,” Steinman said. “Communication is always key. We see everything on the field, we see everything in front of us. We need to be the ones that are directing our midfield and our forwards. [We just need] more direct communication and we’ll be fine.”

So far this season, the Owls have had trouble against ranked opponents. The team is 0-4 against Top 20 teams so far this season losing to the University of Maryland, Penn State, the University of Delaware and Northwestern University.

The Owls were outscored 17-6 in the four Top 20 matchups and with four potential Top 20 games left on its schedule, Steinman said the team needs to do a better job of capitalizing on offense.

“We were always in those games,” Steinman said. “We competed well with them. I think we are playing good hockey. We can see it in film, and it’s just finishing our plays and capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes.”

With a contest at No. 19 James Madison Friday and Temple’s Big East opener against No. 15 Old Dominion University Oct. 2, Freeman said the Owls must focus on improving their 3-5 record.

“In times of adversity, when you have lost games, it’s important that you look at what you didn’t do well and apply it to the training for the following week,” Freeman said. “You have to understand that sometimes the chips aren’t going to fall your way. … There’s not a lot of time to hold grudges and dwell on the past. You really have to keep a clear, level head to move forward in the future.”

Matt Cockayne can be reached at matt.cockayne@temple.edu or on Twitter @MattCockayne55.

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