The color of the leaves are changing and the wind is blowing. Fall has returned, but the weather may be the only thing normal this season.
Usually by mid-September, Temple University’s field hockey team would have played their first Big East Conference game.
The Owls returned to practice Sept. 18 after a two-week-long pause following Temple’s suspension of in-person classes on Aug. 30, The Temple News reported.
The team voted to hold scrimmages every Friday night, holding their first Sept. 18. The players put on uniforms and created a competitive environment that replicates an actual game, head coach Susan Ciufo said.
“They were actually the ones that requested to wear their uniforms, they just want to feel what it feels like on a game day,” Ciufo added. “To be able to mimic that, I think, is really important for us to keep our level of play high.”
The team is allowed to practice eight hours each week. Four of those hours will be designated for practice and the other four will be used for strength and conditioning, Ciufo said.
The Owls’ regular season will begin on Feb. 12 and end on April 23. The championship bracket will include 12 teams with 10 automatic qualifiers and two at-large bids, The Temple News reported.
With a significant amount of time to get prepared for the season, the players will take advantage of more practice reps and improve in various areas of their game, Ciufo said.
“We actually have spent some time on the technical side of things, which we don’t always have the time to sit down and break down technical skills for days on end,” she added.
The Owls lost five seniors from the 2019-20 season, but the new group is already considered leaders, said senior back Dani Batze.
“The seniors last year have always been great leaders,” Batze added. “Luckily enough for me, I was able to work with them last year and watch and learn from them while also being on the leadership team.”
The Owls’ leadership team consists of five different players: Batze, goalie Cristina Carotenuto, forward Mia Sexton, midfielder Taylor Alba and redshirt-junior back Grace Shanton, Batze said.
The team finished with a 7-10 record in Ciufo’s first year, a five win improvement from the previous season in 2018-19.
The team has a strong defensive unit that can disrupt opposing teams. The 2019 defensive unit only allowed an average of 1.5 goals per game.
The defenders include juniors Nienke Oerlemans and Annie Judge, Batze and sophomore McKenna Burkhardt.
Ciufo believes their defensive playing style will continue to be a strong point during their spring season.
“Defensively, all over the field I think we add great value,” Ciufo said. “We lose the ball, we have a second to win the ball back. They’re tackling back consistently, that is one area we know we are going to continue bringing into the season.”
Attacking is the team’s main area of improvement. The Owls want to generate more chaos in the attacking circle, lay out for more balls and have better passes up the field, Ciufo said.
In 2019, the Owls’ offense averaged 1.4 goals per game and the leading scorer is one of the defensive players, Batze. She led the team with six goals and four of those were game-winning goals.
“On and off the field, we are a really close team,” Judge said. “Off the field, we are best friends, so it makes the connection for when we are on the field even better.”
As the team returned to practice, the Owls developed a new sense of appreciation for the game and are working harder because of it, Ciufo said.
“There’s a whole new joy for the sport when you get it taken away from you, and then you’re able to have the opportunity to come back to it,” Ciufo added.