Temple University women’s soccer team finished last season with a four-game losing streak to spoil its hopes of making the American Athletic Conference postseason tournament.
With five games remaining, Temple (6-7, 2-2 The American) hopes to be one of the top six teams in the league to qualify for the conference tournament, which starts on Oct. 31.
The Owls last played on Sept. 30, when they beat South Florida, 1-0. The win against USF, which was ranked 19th in the United Soccer Coaches poll, was the Owls’ first win over a ranked opponent since 1995. Temple is in the midst of a 10-day stretch without a game which will end Thursday when the team travels to Ohio to face conference opponent Cincinnati (6-7-2, 1-4-1 The American).
“This team is so focused right now,” O’Connor said. “We’re providing the groundwork, but these ladies right now have worked so hard. We’ve worked harder this week than we would have if we had a game.”
O’Connor thinks the team’s high level of competition will give it successful results as the Owls aim to win their final five games and finish first in The American. But Temple will have to avoid the pitfalls it experienced earlier in the season to do so.
Temple defeated the University of Maryland, a Big Ten Conference team, on Aug. 31, but lost four consecutive games after the win.
Sophomore forward Emma Wilkins said the Owls cannot repeat what happened after the win against Maryland if they want to make the conference tournament.
“We definitely can’t let [beating USF] get to our heads because our win against Maryland was extremely big as well,” Wilkins said. “This time, we definitely have to play our game and play how we want to play and not how any other team wants to play.”
In those games, Temple will play Cincinnati and East Carolina on the road, then host Tulsa, Memphis, and Connecticut. Memphis is in first place with a 4-0 conference record, Houston is in second with 10 points and three teams are tied with nine. The Owls are tied with ECU and Tulsa with six points. Cincinnati and UConn are below Temple in The American’s standings.
The long break between games gives Temple a chance to rest. O’Connor gave his team two days off last week so it can focus on school work and getting healthy, but practiced hard the rest.
The Owls see the break as an advantage heading into their final five games.
“They understood that [the break] came at a perfect time,” O’Connor said. “We had the season broken up into mini-seasons. They were already focused. They were kind of relieved to get the [USF] game over with because they knew it was the end of one season and then we were going to prepare for the next run.”
This past week, the Owls had their best week of practice O’Connor’s eight-year tenure as an assistant and head coach, he said. Junior goalkeeper Morgan Basileo said the practices have become more intense because the team isn’t preparing for any imminent games.
“It’s nice, but it’s also nice to keep a rhythm,” Basileo said. “We’re so used to having our games and the way we practice and have our schedule set up.”
“The girls are fighting to hold on to their spot because there’s someone behind them,” O’Connor said. “ There’s so much competition right now. Getting rest before we head to Cincinnati and East Carolina is huge. We will hopefully be a little fresher.”