At the beginning of the 2021 season, head coach Bonnie Rosen didn’t know what to expect from Temple University lacrosse (13-6, 7-3 The American) because the Owls had played only nine games the previous year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, about half of what they do in a typical season, she said.
“I knew from the beginning, we couldn’t do what we’ve been doing,” Rosen said. “When COVID hit, I knew we were going to have to figure out how to adjust and adapt to the environment we’re in.”
Those adjustments led the Owls to finish the season with a 13-6 record and receive an at-large bid in the NCAA Division I Lacrosse Tournament, which the program had not received since 1998. The achievement did not come easy as Temple managed to instill lacrosse fundamentals and team values, while the program adapted to a different schedule and new regulations, due to COVID-19 protocol.
The bulk of the Owls’ schedule this season was arranged into a two-game series each weekend against conference opponents to limit the amount of travel. In previous seasons,Temple only played one game per weekend.
The Owls opened their 2021 season playing five non-conference teams, allowing Rosen to scout conference opponents later on in the season after they had played a few games against other teams.
“We did have a period of time to learn how to play together, how to prepare for a team and how to reflect upon our game,” Rosen said. “I can’t separate out the fact that part of our preparation for playing those conference weekends started with just getting experience in our single opponent games.”
The Owls’ biggest challenge competing in a two-game series was finding the physical and mental capacity to play from Friday to Sunday, Rosen added.
Rosen found Temple played better in the first game of each conference series than the second, even though the Owls only lost the second game twice out of six total series, she said.
“I think some of that was fatigue, and some of that was still learning that you have to be better,” Rosen said. “We figured out how to pull it out a win on a Sunday game, but maybe not playing as well as we wanted.”
Senior midfielder Bridget Whitaker, who totaled a team-high of 45 goals this season, wanted to fix her errors quickly during conference play, but had to pace her repetition in-between games and practices this season, she said.
Rosen designated practice time during the week to watch films of each game, which was something Whitaker never acknowledged as much before this year, she added.
“That was a big switch this year, like actually watching film, knowing what you need to do before you go into practice,” Whitaker said. “It’s definitely an important key that I think they’ll do for the rest of the years, even though it’s not going to be the same schedule.”
The countless hours of travel, practice and maintaining a clear mindset each weekend paid off for the Owls later on, but Whitaker noticed there was something special about this group early on in the season.
On March 10, Temple defeated Towson University, who the Owls have not played since 2012, 12-8. It was the Owls’ third win and what Whitaker remembers as a big win for the group because of their dynamic play, she said.
“We were scoring in ways that we normally wouldn’t or repeating a given set,” Whitaker added. “We really couldn’t do that before, there were different moments that you’re like, ‘Wow, we can do that.’”
While more wins brought different energy and momentum to practice, Rosen noticed it did take more time, compared to previous season, to build a team culture due to the inability to do group events, such as locker room pep talks, she said.
This season the Owls were only allowed in the locker room in small groups based on who they lived with, freshman midfielder Taylor Moncman said.
“It definitely was hard because we couldn’t really meet people,” Moncman added. “Especially living in the dorms, it kind of felt like a ghost town, so it wasn’t the college experience that I was really expecting coming into it.”
Luckily, the Owls had more time to travel together compared to any other season, which helped boost team chemistry.
After Temple traveled to Old Dominion University, where the Owls won back-to-back games on March 26 and March 28, Rosen saw the team come together and bond off the field, she said.
“We were so fortunate to actually have so much travel,” Rosen added. “The gift of this season is that playing two conference games in a weekend allowed us to spend a lot of time together, especially on the road.”
Although Temple lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament on May 16 against Boston College, the Owls finished their overall season with the highest program record since 2016.
“If the pandemic wasn’t a thing, our team wouldn’t be as close as we were,” Moncman said. “It was all worth it in the end. The bonds became so much stronger throughout this season and it really showed on the field.”