Last season took a toll on coach David MacWilliams.
Following a 10-win season in 2013, the Owls posted a 2-14-2 record last year. The team’s two wins tied for the lowest season win total since 2006 and marked the first time since 2011 that the squad did not win 10 games.
The less-than-stellar season, which included losses in six of the team’s seven overtime games, hit MacWilliams particularly hard. MacWilliams, who just the season prior won the Bill Harris Coach of the Year award, faced one of the lowest points in his coaching career.
“It was the worst year I’ve ever had,” MacWilliams said. “I lost a lot of sleep just thinking about different things, and we tried a lot of things during the season and it didn’t work out. We just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Temple scored 13 goals last season, while giving up 37 to opponents. The Owls were shut out eight different times in 2014, including a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Connecticut in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
MacWilliams said the Owls’ lack of offense, which ranked 190th among 200 Division I teams, was the main reason his team struggled last year.
“I think most of our issues were scoring goals,” MacWilliams said. “There were probably only three or four games I was really disappointed in…if you don’t score goals it puts a lot of pressure on you. You start second guessing and your confidence goes down.”
Junior defender Matt Mahoney, who started all 18 games last season, said the lack of offense affected both sides of the ball. Mahoney said when the team struggles to score, it enhances the stress put on the defense.
“It’s tough, because the feeling was every time we gave up a goal, we weren’t going to be able to get back into it,” Mahoney said. “We were playing games banking on our defense to be able to help us and maybe getting a goal. It just gets mentally tiring when we’re constantly getting pressured.”
Although last season was hard to swallow, Mahoney does not believe in dwelling on it. In order to move forward, he said the team needs to leave it in the past and focus on this year.
“There’s really nothing you can do about it,” Mahoney said. “All you’ve got to do is forget about it. We’re getting a lot of freshmen coming in this year that will hopefully raise the level of our team, and we’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Toward the end of last season and this offseason, MacWilliams noticed an improvement in team-oriented play. He said getting drawn into fewer one-on-one situations offensively will be crucial for the Owls this season.
“I felt we got back to basics and were working more as team,” MacWilliams said “We worked more as a group, and we played solid defensively.”
MacWilliams also cited his players’ participation in offseason leagues this summer as a possible catalyst for improvement.
Many players like junior defender Robert Sagel, who is playing for Reading United AC of the Premier Development League, are participating in these Under-23 leagues because the game experience and touches keep them in shape. The competition in most leagues is similar to what the Owls will see during the season.
“A lot of the leagues are taking the top college players, and they want to find a league that they can play in to better their game,” MacWilliams said. “So it’s a very competitive league.”
However, MacWilliams also knows the risk of injury increases when players participate year-round.
“The players are very passionate, and they want to play year-round,” MacWilliams said. “We have quite a few that are playing, but the downside is there’s always that risk of injury. We try to stay in contact with our players and make sure we get updates on their health and things like that.”
Temple lost Chas Wilson, the Owls’ leading-goal scorer from a year ago, to graduation. Two candidates to fill the void are sophomore Joonas Jokinen and senior Jared Martinelli who dual as forwards and midfielders.
Jokinen, who played in six games including three starts last season, scored one goal in limited playing time. After netting six goals and tallying four assists during his sophomore season in 2013, Martinelli scored two goals on 47 shot attempts this past season.
“Last year our goal scoring was way down, and a lot of that falls on my shoulders,” Martinelli said. “If I work on finishing in the offseason I think I can have a much more productive year. I had a lot of opportunities last season that I just couldn’t finish.”
Like MacWilliams, last season was one of the worst Martinelli has endured in his sports career. Losing so frequently is not something the rising senior had experienced before, but it also made him optimistic to start fresh this year.
“That was the first time I had been on a team, out of all the sports I’ve played, that was struggling so much,” Martinelli said. “It was pretty different for me and probably a lot of other guys on the team. That’s why I’m looking forward to next year so much, we can kind of get some redemption.”
Daniel Newhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org