With a 1-0 double overtime win against Cincinnati on Saturday, the Owls (10-3-4) finished off a season that surpassed the expectations of everyone but themselves.
In a preseason poll for the American Athletic Conference, Temple was picked to finish last in its new conference, but ended up in the Top 4 with a first round bye going into the conference tournament. Temple will play in the quarterfinals on Saturday against South Florida.
“We want to be last,” sophomore midfielder Jared Martinelli said. “We want to be underdogs, come back and prove people wrong. We’ve shown that we can do that this year.”
“The years I’ve been here, it’s always been hard getting some respect,” senior defenseman Sawyer Hemmer said. “But I think we’ve really come out and gotten that respect. We finished Top 4, so hopefully some of the coaches start to look at us and kind of start to change their game plans up.”
Coach David MacWilliams gave credit to new players and spoke highly of the veterans on Senior Day.
“I think we had a great freshman class coming in, and we had a great nucleus of players here,” MacWilliams said. “We had a very successful year last year. And I think the addition of the kids that we brought in has really helped, and I think the chemistry has been very good. We’ve got a great bunch of kids here and it showed.”
The Owls were particularly strong at home this year, going 7-0-2, while outscoring their opponents 13-3. Although the Owls did not fare quite as well in the conference (3-1-4) as they did against non-conference teams (7-2-0), they are still confident about facing teams like conference leader Louisville.
“I think we can play with anyone in the nation right now,” Hemmer said. “So we need to have a good week of practice and then come out next Saturday and play some good soccer and hope we get a result.”
Junior goalkeeper Dan Scheck, who started each game this year for the Owls and allowed 12 goals on 234 shots, was also optimistic about his team’s chances.
“I think we’re very confident as a team,” Scheck said. “We’ve been getting good results lately. I think, going into the tournament, we should definitely have a good chance to make it to Dallas and even compete for the tournament championship.”
This season, one of the players most significant to Temple’s success was Martinelli. He started every game for the Owls, except for the final one against Cincinnati, and led the team in goals, assists and shots. Martinelli gave credit to the seniors for his accomplishments and the team’s success.
“I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Martinelli said. “They’re the ones that get everyone motivated and get everyone going, and we wouldn’t be who we are without them.”
Martinelli is also looking toward the conference tournament.
“We’re going to have a home game here,” Martinelli said. “We’re very good at home. I know we’ll be able to do some damage, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“The preseason poll, we were picked dead last,” Scheck said. “And I don’t think that affected anyone’s mentality. We knew how good we were, so we knew we needed to finish in the Top 4, and that’s what we’ve come out and done.”
Senior midfielder/forward and co-captain Vaughn Spurrier said the team was underrated because its opponents did not know what to expect from the Owls. Even though Temple finished the 2012 season with a winning record of 10-6-3, The American has tougher competition.
“I think we’ve made a name for ourselves, so then coming in [to the tournament] we’re on a pretty level playing field with anyone that we come up against,” Spurrier said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to work to be able to win a place in the NCAA tournament, because that’s been our goal from game one.”
“We made a statement this year,” freshman defenseman Robert Sagel said, who was fourth in goals this season for the Owls. “Got a huge win to ensure home field advantage in the first round. It’s been a great experience.”
MacWilliams, in his 14th year as Temple’s head coach, feels just as confident as his players.
“We’re pretty excited,” MacWilliams said. “I think the sky’s the limit. Our guys feel that we can compete with anybody in the country, and I think we’ve shown that. And next week it starts, and we’ll go from there.”
Don McDermott can be reached at email@example.com.