Temple Field Hockey looks to build off last year’s success

Led by returning stars and key transfers, the Owls hope to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 31 years.

Temple junior Devin Kinzel chases down the ball during the Owls' August 27 win against Bucknell. | CHARLOTTE SAUNDERS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In the 2022 season, head coach Michelle Vittese guided Temple Field Hockey to its first above .500 record since 2014 and made the Big East tournament both of her first two years. Now, in year three of the Vittese era, the team is aiming for higher goals than in previous years.

Temple has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1992, a long drought for a program with a history of success. The team is hoping to snap that 31-year streak this season with returning and incoming talent on the field.

“We are going to work very hard and play to the Temple Field Hockey principles,” Vittese said. “I am expecting us to compete day-in and day-out and in every game in the Big East.”

Temple retained most of its experienced players from last year. Back McKenna Burkhardt, midfielder Caitlyn Amsden and goalkeeper Molly Frey are all entering their fifth and final year. These three players have been key leaders throughout their time at Temple and serve as a foundation for the younger and newer players. 

The team also kept seven of their starters from last season, including midfielder Tess Muller. In 2022, Muller was second on the team in goals and assists and earned first team all-conference. She was also named preseason first team all-conference for this year. 

Rather than worrying about the accolades, Muller said she just enjoys playing field hockey.

“I try to play like I always do and not to think about it too much,” Muller said. “And, it’s nice that my coach knows how to talk to me that way and makes sure I do what I always do. I just want to make sure that I’m still having fun with the team.”

Along with the returning talent and experience, Temple added three graduate transfers to its roster. Defender Lilly Peterson from Miami (OH), midfielder Kate Miller from UMass Lowell and forward Amber Hofenk Jerembo from Bellarmine joined the program.

“After careful discussion with the coaches about my fit with the team, we decided to try it,” Hofenk Jerembo said about transferring to Temple. “I feel like I fit in very well with the team with not only my skill set but socially as well.” 

The new players have already played a significant role on the field. Hofenk Jerembo scored against Bucknell on Aug. 27, leading to a 2-1 Temple win, and both Peterson and Miller have started games for the Owls this season.

“They have been able to gain a lot of experience, maturity and leadership at their previous institutions,” Vittese said. “Lilly was elected to the leadership board by her peers, while having Amber at the top of the circle has been a huge advantage and Kate Miller has been sensational, showing her quickness and definitely earned her starting spot.”

Entering this season, Temple was picked to finish fourth in the Big East preseason coaches poll. While Temple had a strong start to the season, the team has struggled when facing tough opponents, a problem that has plagued them for the last two years with Vittese.

The Owls impressed in their first two games, picking up wins against La Salle and Bucknell. Frey was strong in the net, earning 16 saves. Muller has also played up to her status as preseason first team all-conference, netting two goals and adding an assist so far this season. 

“It’s always helpful to have experience and these girls have been playing for so long, they already have four years experience of college field hockey,” Muller said. “It’s really nice that they have been able to fill in the gaps left by fifth-years Nienke Oerlemans and Annie Judge.”

However, the Owls struggled in their past two games. They were shut out 1-0 against Yale (1-1, 0-0 Ivy League) and 6-0 against No. 6 Virginia (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which was the program’s worst loss since its 6-1 game against then-No. 9 Liberty in 2021.

Their most recent game against LIU saw more strong signs from this team. The offense pressured the Sharks’ and the defense and goalkeeping were rock solid, earning the first shutout of the season.

The schedule is only going to get tougher moving forward. Temple will play Monmouth, last season’s Coastal Athletic Conference regular season champions, and James Madison, which finished with several upsets against ranked opponents last season. 

Conference play won’t be easy for the Owls either, as they’ll have to face teams like UConn and Old Dominion, which both finished in the top half of the conference last season.

To compete for a place in the NCAA Tournament, the Owls will have to fare better against ranked opponents after going 1-4 last season. Temple will play three more teams that are currently ranked this season:  No. 9 Liberty, No. 19 Delaware and No. 10 Saint Joseph’s.

While the season could have ups and downs, Vittese believes in her squad and thinks they could make history at Temple, she said.

“We have what it takes for sure,” Vittese said. “A lot of areas needed to get to the NCAAs are result-driven, and from a coaching perspective, I think we are able to meet a majority of those results.”

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