Temple’s final lacrosse season in Big East Conference awaits

Temple, which will join the American Athletic Conference in 2019, starts conference play on Sunday.

Senior attacker Kira Gensler (left) pivots away from La Salle graduate midfielder and defender Abbey Meehan during the Owls’ 8-4 win on Monday at Howarth Field. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple and five other schools will join the American Athletic Conference for the 2019 lacrosse season.

Since the 2013-14 academic year, Temple has been an affiliate member of the Big East because the newly formed American Athletic Conference didn’t have enough schools sponsoring lacrosse to form a league. Prior to that, Temple belonged to the Atlantic 10 Conference.

With East Carolina’s newly added lacrosse program this season, there will finally be enough teams for Temple to begin play in The American. But first the Owls need to get through this season.

On Sunday, the Owls (5-3) will start their final matchups in the Big East with a home game against the University of Denver, the No. 22 team in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll.

As Temple enters the nine-game conference season, coach Bonnie Rosen doesn’t want her team to lose focus on the most immediate game.

“[Denver will] be the only ones on our mind,” Rosen said. “They have a pretty powerful offense and play an aggressive defense.”

Denver scores an average of 11.7 goals per game and has caused 62 turnovers this season. The Pioneers’ (4-2) losses are both to ranked teams, No. 1 Stony Brook University and then-No. 24 Virginia Tech.

The preseason coaches’ poll predicted both Denver and Temple to finish in the top four of the league and reach the Big East tournament. If Temple qualifies, it would reach its third straight Big East tournament.

“The reality of our conference is that if I prepare for a conference opponent that we’re going to see three weeks from now, they’re going to look different,” Rosen said.

Temple also will likely look different as it makes lineup adjustments and adapts to each opponent. The Owls used the same starting lineup in their first three games of the season. They made their first change in their 18-11 loss to St. Joseph’s on Feb. 21 when sophomore midfielder Meghan Hoffman had her first career start.

Since then, Hoffman hasn’t come out of the starting lineup. In the next game, an 18-15 road win against Lafayette College on Feb. 25, freshman midfielder Jen Rodzewich and senior attacker Toni Yuko made their first starts of the season.

Yuko and Rodzewich each started the next three games. Yuko had four goals in that span, and Rodzewich had six goals and four assists. Rodzewich made the conference’s Weekly Honor Roll after her five-goal outing against Lafayette.

Injuries and the departure of senior attacker Nicole Barretta after the fourth game of the season affected lineup changes.

Senior attacker Kira Gensler scored two goals in the Owls’ win against East Carolina on March 6, when she returned from an injury that kept her sidelined for two weeks.

Coach Bonnie Rosen led her team to an 8-4 win against La Salle on Monday at Howarth Field in Temple’s final nonconference game. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Instead of preparing for conference opponents weeks in advance, Temple will focus on self-improvement and take a game-by-game approach, Rosen said.

“Sometimes when you focus too much on opponents, you forget about yourself,” assistant coach Devon Schneider said.

Rosen said the team needs to work on having more consistent success, rather than bursts of good play. She was impressed with her team’s effort in the second half of the game against East Carolina. The Owls scored nine straight goals and kept the Pirates from scoring until there were 11 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the game.

Specific areas where she wants to see improvement include draw controls, defense and one-on-one play. The team worked on defensive coverage during spring break, Rosen added.

Temple will enter conference play coming off Monday’s 8-4 win against La Salle at Howarth Field.

The Owls will face three teams — No. 25 Georgetown University, No. 22 Denver and No. 6 University of Florida — currently ranked in the IWLCA poll during conference play. Big East schools Vanderbilt University, Florida, Marquette University and Cincinnati all rank in the top 30 of Division I in goals per game.

Last year, Temple made the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed and had to face Florida in the first round. The Gators, who were No. 2 in the IWLCA poll, beat Temple, 21-9, to advance to the championship.

Seeding is not a focus for the Owls.

Being a No. 2 seed compared to a No. 3 seed doesn’t necessarily guarantee an improved chance at postseason success, Rosen said.

Ultimately, Rosen simply wants her team to make the tournament.

“Our goal is to put ourselves in a position to get to the conference championship,” Rosen added. “In order to do that, we need to finish top four in the conference.”

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