Top 10 sports topics of 2014

As 2014 began, respective players and coaches of seven varsity teams were coming to grips with the looming athletic cuts as one final semester remained. A year later, five squads were dropped from Temple’s athletic program, while the crew and rowing teams were reinstated last February. The men’s basketball team dealt with its worst season of the Fran Dunphy era, and recently handed No. 10 Kansas a 25-point defeat. Two senior student-athletes left final, lasting marks, while the football team’s improved 2014 campaign started in a big way. Here are your Top 10 sports moments of 2014.

1. The sports cuts:

Coach Fred Turoff wipes a tear from sophomore Jon Rydzefski’s face during the men’s gymnastics team’s final conference championship. | HUA ZONG TTN
Coach Fred Turoff wipes a tear from then-sophomore Jon Rydzefski’s face during the men’s gymnastics team’s final conference championship last spring. HUA ZONG | TTN

The most monumental change for the university’s athletic program was the elimination of five varsity sports. Temple athletics continued its campaigns in 2014 without baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track & field.

As the dust settles, coaches have relocated, players transferred and careers were redirected. Many athletes have seen an increase in resources for the remaining varsity sports, including new locker rooms and facilities.

In an October interview with The Temple News, Clark said each remaining sport will receive full scholarship funding within a year in hopes to bolster recruiting efforts across the board.

With time, the goal for Clark and his administration has become more transparent, as they said “broad-based competition” is the long-term objective for the university’s athletic program. While there is no specific timeline for Athletics’ desired improvement all-around, the reallocation of funds to supply more scholarships, relocate teams and provide new facilities and locker rooms has Clark and company confident that they are on the right track.

2. Crew & rowing teams reinstated:

(From left) Rowers Layla Moran, Rachael Braccia and Kelly Hill react in excitement to the news that the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams will be reinstated. The programs were slated to be eliminated this summer before the Board of Trustees reversed its decision. | ABI REIMOLD TTN
(From left) Rowers Layla Moran, Rachael Braccia and Kelly Hill react in excitement to the news that the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams will be reinstated. The programs were slated to be eliminated this summer before the Board of Trustees reversed its decision. ABI REIMOLD | TTN

For more than two months, the crew and rowing teams joined five additional sports slated to lose varsity status as part of Temple’s announced athletic cuts on Dec. 6, 2013. Yet, after weeks of negotiations, Mayor Nutter announced on Feb. 25 that the crew and rowing teams would share space with the Police Marine Unit upon completion of a $5.5 million renovation to the East Park Canoe House, the teams’ former home until the building was condemned in 2008.

Nutter’s announcement followed a public meeting of the Board of Trustees in Sullivan Hall in which the Board approved a recommendation by President Theobald to reinstate the teams.

“It’s a relief,” rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski said after the meeting. “I’m optimistic about what the future holds and that we can continue what we’re building.”

The City of Philadelphia allocated $2.5 million toward the renovations, while Temple trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest offered the remaining $3 million.

During the announcement, Nutter and Theobald said the renovation was expected to take 12-18 months.

3. Men’s basketball beats No. 10 Kansas:

At the start of winter break, the men’s basketball team faced No. 10 Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center slated against various potential NBA prospects. In front of more than 20 NBA scouts, guards Will Cummings, Quenton DeCosey and Jesse Morgan combined for 54 of Temple’s 77 points.

Morgan, who was forced to sit out the first 10 games due to NCAA transfer regulations, has been a breath of fresh air for the Owls in providing an offensive spark for a defensive-minded bunch.

Holding a 30-point lead near the end of the game, the student section prepared to rush the hardwood in celebration of the upset win while shouting the traditional “I believe” chant.

“It sinks in when they rush the court,” Cummings said after the game. “I didn’t think they were going to rush the court, but it happened. It’s just a great feeling, just to go out there and celebrate with the fans that stick with us with the season we had last year and they still come out to games. It was a great crowd tonight and we wanted to give them something to celebrate.

4. Football tops No. 21 East Carolina:

Donald Otto | TTN
The football team helped force five lost fumbles for East Carolina in the Owls’ 20-10 defeat of the No. 21 Pirates on Nov. 1. DONALD OTTO | TTN

On a dreary Philadelphia afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls topped the Pirates in improbable fashion and marked the football program’s first defeat of a ranked opponent since knocking off No. 14 Virginia Tech on the road in 1996.

The Nov. 1 upset of East Carolina put the Owls’ stout defense on display, as the unit forced five fumbles and held the potent Pirates offense to 10 points  – 24.6 points less than their average headed into the game.

The win put coach Matt Rhule’s squad at 5-3 (3-2 American Athletic Conference) and marked a high point for the team’s 6-6 season that ended at the hands of the College Football Playoff selection committee, which overlooked the Owls’ bowl eligibility and declined to give them the at-large bid the squad needed after finishing sixth in The American, which has rights to five bowl games.

5. Amber Youtz named to All-American first team:

Senior forward Amber Youtz chases after the ball against Connecticut last Saturday. Hua Zong | TTN
Senior forward Amber Youtz (left) finished her career as Temple’s fourth-highest career goal-scorer. HUA ZONG | TTN

While her team ended its season with a defeat to Connecticut for the second consecutive season  ﹘ a 4-1 loss in the Big East Conference title game ﹘ senior Amber Youtz capped her 2014 campaign as a Longstreth/NFHCA First-Team All-American selection.

Her 27 goals and eight assists also garnered Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors, as well as a spot on the All-Region first team. She ranked second in Division I this season with 1.29 goals per game.

The forward spent four years as a starter for coach Amanda Janney, racking up 69 total goals. Youtz finished her career in November as the program’s fourth-most prolific goal-scorer of all-time.

6. Historical start for women’s soccer:

Junior defender Taylor Trusky inbounds the ball against Drexel Sunday afternoon. DONALD OTTO | TTN
Junior defender Taylor Trusky throws the ball in against Drexel on Sept. 7. DONALD OTTO | TTN

With two minutes remaining in extra time against Cornell on Sept. 14, junior Kelly Farrell buried the eventual game-winner on a volley that would give the Owls a 2-1 victory and their seventh win in as many games to seal the team’s best start in program history.

While each Temple women’s soccer team had failed to win more than six games in a season since a 7-12-1 campaign in 2009, the Owls took their first seven non-conference games en route to an 11-8-1 season. The team finished 3-5-1 in The American, and posted three victories in conference play for the first time since that 2009 season, when the team went 3-8 in Atlantic 10 Conference contests.

Farrell, who transferred from Old Dominion before the 2013 season, led the Owls with nine goals, the highest goal-scorer for a Temple player since Owls alumna Nikki Conn netted 10 as a junior in 2010.

7. Volleyball’s winning streak:

Jennifer Iacobini (left) and Dara Peric (right) successfully close a block against South Florida's Priscilla Ehieze in Temple's 3-0 win against the Bulls. | Hua Zong TTN
Jennifer Iacobini (left) and Dara Peric (right) successfully close a block against South Florida’s Priscilla Ehieze in Temple’s 3-0 win against the Bulls on Nov. 7. HUA ZONG | TTN

The Owls compiled victories at a near-historic rate and had five players on the All-Conference team in 2014.

In a season in which the volleyball team enjoyed a 10-game winning streak at the heart of its conference schedule, the squad’s 15 wins in conference play tied Southern Methodist for second-most in The American en route to a 24-8 overall record. The Owls had an outside chance at a NCAA tournament bid, but were left out of the 64-team field.

The team knocked off eventual conference champion Central Florida, 3-1, during its 10-game winning run, and also enjoyed wins against SMU, Tulsa and Memphis among others during the stretch. The Owls’ 24 wins marked the program’s best mark since 2002.

8. Alyssa Kirk’s final home game:

Alyssa Kirk finished her last year second on the team in points. Paul Klein |TTN
Alyssa Kirk finished her last year as the women’s soccer team’s second-highest mark in points. PAUL KLEIN | TTN

As the lone senior on a historic women’s soccer team, Alyssa Kirk struggled to hold back tears as she played out the final minutes of her final game.

Starting as a walk-on battling for playing time on a 12-loss team, Kirk grew into a scholarship player, a captain and a leader.

“Everybody has an Alyssa story,” coach Seamus O’Connor said. “Everyone has their favorite moments with her. She’s just developed that personality of the one that cares.”

9. Nikki Franke seizes her 700th win:

Coach Nikki Franke is entering her 43rd season as the head coach of the fencing team. Hua Zong | TTN
Coach Nikki Franke is currently in her 43rd season coaching the fencing team. HUA ZONG | TTN

A five-team meet at Sacred Heart University on Dec. 7 featured three Temple wins, and the 700th victory for the university’s fencing coach of 43 seasons.

Nikki Franke joined Temple in 1972 when the university was set to house a women’s fencing program for the first time in the school’s history, having had only a men’s program in prior years. Since taking the reigns of the women’s program from its start, Franke helped the program reach and maintain its status as a force on the national level.

10. Football beats Vanderbilt in season opener:

P.J. Walker (center) celebrates with teammates after rushing for a touchdown in the third quarter of Temple's 37-7 win at Vanderbilt Thursday. | Hua Zong TTN
P.J. Walker (center) celebrates with teammates after rushing for a touchdown in the third quarter of Temple’s 37-7 win at Vanderbilt Thursday. HUA ZONG | TTN

After a 92-minute delay due to lightning showers, the football team opened its season in upset fashion on the road against Southeastern Conference school Vanderbilt in a 37-7 blowout. One marquee moment in the game marked the Owls’ first of six defensive touchdowns in 2014 when sophomore defensive lineman Averee Robinson returned a fumble for 55 yards in the second quarter.

EJ Smith and Andrew Parent can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

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