Elana Falcone found herself out of breath more times than she would have liked last season.
Recruited by coach Seamus O’Connor to play striker, Falcone struggled with her fitness in 13 games as a freshman.
O’Connor experimented with putting Falcone on defense during the spring, and the move has since paid off for the Owls.
The 5-foot-4-inch Scranton Preparatory School product has recorded a team-high four assists, in addition to four goals, in Temple’s 8-4 start this season.
“I was a striker originally, so it’s definitely a different perspective being more in the back of the field, but I really do like it,” Falcone said. “I can see more of the field and I know how to do those little final passes and stuff like that.”
With the impending graduation of his nine seniors in mind, O’Connor has been especially pleased with the play of his sophomores.
Falcone, Kayla Cunningham and Gabriella McKeown have accumulated 20 combined points, with each player making at least five starts this season.
“It’s absolutely huge, because you’re still thinking about what’s going to happen in the future,” O’Connor said of the trio’s recent productivity. “Now, every game we play, I’m like, ‘All right, that’s one less player we need.’”
Transition is a common theme among the three sophomores.
Cunningham, who is second on Temple in shots this season with 26, is a redshirt sophomore due to transferring from Indiana University, where she played field hockey during her freshman year.
Last season, her first year as an Owl, Cunningham started 20 games and scored four goals, earning American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team honors.
“I definitely thought it was going to be a big challenge, so I worked out a lot in the summer before coming here,” Cunningham said of re-acclimating to soccer. “I know my first couple games were really rusty, but I was just getting back into it.”
McKeown didn’t play quite as much as Cunningham last season, but still managed to appear in 20 games while making 10 starts as a freshman.
The 5-foot-6 inch forward from North Cape May, New Jersey, had nothing to show for her 37 shots in 2014, but made quick work of notching her first career goal with a one-on-one maneuver and finish in Temple’s 5-0 defeat of Delaware State Aug. 23.
McKeown, who missed two games after injuring her right shoulder in a loss to Lehigh University Sept. 6, started in all 10 games she played this season. She has two goals on 11 shots.
Similar to Falcone, McKeown was recruited as a striker, but now switches from offense to defense throughout the game at O’Connor’s discretion.
“I played a little bit last year, but it was just kind of getting confidence on the field and being able to just take girls one-on-one,” McKeown said. “I didn’t really do that too much last year.”
O’Connor has an abundance of leadership from his senior class, but he’s starting to see those same traits trickle down to Falcone, Cunningham and McKeown.
“They’re becoming great leaders,” O’Connor said. “They have really stepped up and it’s going to have to be like that. … It’s just them getting confidence and realizing, ‘I can do this.’”
Tom Reifsnyder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Reifsnyder.