Not much was expected of the Owls this year.
Before the season began, the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll had the Owls finishing sixth out of the eight teams in conference and out of postseason contention.
When Lizzy Millen saw this, she said her only thought was, “You’re sadly mistaken.”
“That was definitely a motivator,” the redshirt-junior goalkeeper said. “We’re coming into this new conference and they don’t even expect any competition out of us.”
“We really all took that and just ran with it,” Millen added. “[Coach Amanda Janney] really wanted us to show that we’re here to compete, and just because we’re in a new conference doesn’t mean we’re going to shy away from any challenges, and I think we really proved that this year.”
The team closed out its season as a Big East affiliate with a 7-0 loss to No. 8 Connecticut last Saturday, giving the Owls a 14-5 overall record and a 4-3 record in conference play. Temple will get another shot at the Huskies this Friday in the Big East tournament semifinals.
The field hockey program got off to its best start since 1990 this season, earning the team’s first national ranking since 2001 and securing a spot in the Big East tournament.
In the Owls’ first 10 games, they started 8-2 and beat Villanova and Rutgers to go 2-0 in their first Big East Conference games.
That start included one of their biggest wins of the season, a 3-0 shutout of then-No.6-ranked Penn State on Sept. 6. The win was an upset and the team’s first win against the Nittany Lions in 30 years.
“That was the start of most of it all,” sophomore defender Taylor Shronk said. “We got our season going fast and it put us in a good spot to continue strong throughout the rest of the season.”
“It just sent us off on the greatest path ever,” junior forward Amber Youtz said. “For us, this team has always been about working so hard to prove that we are a better team now, and I think it just gave us the hope that anything can happen any day, and I think it gave us inspiration for the whole entire year.”
Four days later, after beating old Atlantic 10 Conference rival Richmond 3-2 in overtime, Temple earned the No. 11 spot in the national rankings, and although the team would fall back to No. 17 by season’s end, the Owls never let go of their spot in the Top 20.
Statistically, the Owls also stayed among the nation’s best.
The team has performed well defensively all season, holding opponents to 1.50 goals per game, an average that is 23rd in the NCAA.
In the cage, Millen put herself up with the best goalkeepers in the country, posting a .775 save percentage that is 13th in the NCAA.
Offensively, Youtz was third in goals per game at 1.07, and led the nation in points per game with a 2.60 average.
Youtz scored 16 goals and seven assists for 39 points this year to lead the team in scoring, even though she missed four games from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6 due to a right forearm injury.
“It was extremely hard,” Youtz said. “I’ve never had an injury before where I had to miss games, especially in college and even in high school. It was a completely new experience for me, but it was a good learning experience. I think it was something that I needed to have happen, just to know how to handle something like that.”
Temple finished the regular season with a 14-5 record and a 4-3 record in the conference.
Although the Owls beat conference foes Villanova, Rutgers, Providence and Georgetown, they lost close games to now No. 14 Louisville and No. 5 Old Dominion, which are teams they could possibly see again in the Big East tournament.
Temple’s loss to Connectuct last Saturday made the Owls the fourth seed in the tournament. Although the Owls fell to the Huskies, there were some benefits from the experience. They got to play on the same turf the tournament will be played on, as Connecticut will play host to the event. The Owls also now have a chance to fix any remaining weaknesses.
“They’re going to be able to expose us of any weaknesses that we have right now,” Youtz said prior to the game. “Anything that isn’t exactly clicking for us now, they’ll be able to show that to us.”
This will be Temple’s first Big East tournament, but it won’t be much different from the A-10 tournament.
“The only thing that is going to be different is the name of the tournament,” Millen said. “It’s do or die at this point, we have to win to move on. Personally, I love that competition and having that much on the line, so I’m excited for it.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itssnick215.