For 89 minutes and 16 seconds, the men’s soccer team held its own against No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth University in the Owls’ first-round match of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament on Nov. 8.
It was a defensive battle all night until VCU sophomore midfielder Mario Herrera Meraz stunned the Owls by netting a goal with 44 seconds left in regulation, ending the game and Temple’s season.
“We’re disappointed because when you lose in the last 40 seconds it’s a little disheartening,” coach Dave MacWilliams said. “But I was really proud in the way the guys battled throughout the game. I think they left it all on the field, and as a coach that’s all I can ask for. They played with passion and emotion, and they gave it their all.”
The loss signaled the end of the collegiate soccer careers of midfielders Cody Calafiore, Homero Rodriquez and Andrew Dodds, as well as senior defender Billy Kappock.
“[Losing to VCU] was very upsetting,” Kappock said. “We’ve had some great teams here that have made a couple of runs, but we came up short.”
Although the Owls gave nationally ranked VCU all they could handle in the first round match-up, Temple’s trend of coming up short against above .500 teams proved too much to overturn. The only team with a record above .500 the Owls beat in 2012 was City 6 rival La Salle.
The Owls have now been ousted in the first round of the A-10 tournament three years in a row. However, the 2012 campaign certainly had its highlights. MacWilliams led Temple to a 10-win season, the fourth double-digit winning season during his 13-year tenure, and the most wins since 2008. MacWilliams remains one win shy of 100 on his career heading into next season.
Perhaps the most promising aspect came in the form of freshman midfielder Jared Martinelli. Martinelli’s 28 points in his rookie campaign ranks eighth all time for most points in a season at Temple. With nine goals and 10 assists, Martinelli finished one goal shy of becoming the first Temple player to register 10 goals and 10 assists in a season.
“The team has a good core group of guys returning,” Kappock said. “With Martinelli, they’ll be fine.”
Along with Martinelli, junior midfielders Vaughn Spurrier and Jake Lister, as well as redshirt-sophomore striker Chas Wilson will likely be relied upon to produce even more so next season. Wilson, after transferring from Delaware, ranked second on the team in goals with six and third in points with 13. Lister doubled his point total from 2011, registering 10 points – four goals and two assists. Spurrier, although failing to score a goal, evolved into an assist machine in 2012. He finished the season tied for fifth in the nation with 10 helpers. Spurrier’s and Martinelli’s combined 20 assists is the most ever by a Temple duo in a single season.
The defense still appears strong on paper despite losing its leader in Kappock. Juniors and twin brothers Nolan and Sawyer Hemmer will now anchor the defense, with sophomore Willie Chalfant taking Kappock’s place in the middle. While junior goalie Bobby Rosato will likely get a chance to win back the starting job this offseason, it is presumably sophomore Dan Scheck’s to lose. Scheck recorded five shutouts in eight starts. He finished the season with a .932 save percentage compared to Rosato’s .750.
“Obviously I look at all the juniors to step up because it’s their last year,” MacWilliams said. “I think they need to be able to step up and replace the leadership that the seniors are going to leave. [Martinelli] will also have another year under his belt. He now knows what college soccer is all about.”
One area MacWilliams would like to improve in is depth. With the team’s upcoming transition to the Big East Conference, MacWilliams said it’s imperative that Temple is able to keep up in a power conference, and to be able to sustain injuries when they need.
“Well first, we have to replace the four seniors,” MacWilliams said. “We’re going to a bigger, faster, stronger conference. Athletically, we need to get better.”
If MacWilliams is able to make a couple key moves and Martinelli continues to thrive under this program, the Owls should be right back in the thick of things come 2013, but this time in the Big East.
Tyler Sablich can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TySablich.