‘Tough’ South Jersey natives have chemistry on field

South Jersey natives are deeply rooted in the foundation of the women’s soccer roster.

Sophomore midfielder Julia Dolan (right) prepares to attack USF freshman forward Sydny Nasello in the midfield during the Owls’ 1-0 double overtime win against the University of South Florida on Sept. 30 at the Temple Sports Complex. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE

Emma Wilkins and Gabriela Johnson both scored in Temple University women’s soccer 2-2 draw against Cincinnati on Thursday. They’re used to sharing the field, but not usually for the same team.

Wilkins, a sophomore forward, and Johnson, a freshman forward, played against each other twice a year as high school rivals in South Jersey. Wilkins went to Absegami High School, while Johnson went to Oakcrest High School. This season for Temple, Wilkins and Johnson lead the team in points with 12 and 11, respectively, and Wilkins leads Temple (6-8-1, 2-3-1 The American) with six goals.

These rivals are part of a larger theme on the team including South Jersey natives.

Seven of the 18 Owls who played against East Carolina (8-5-2, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) are from South Jersey. 

Coach Seamus O’Connor said the South Jersey natives on the team have good chemistry.

“They have a history of playing with and against each other,” O’Connor said. “They know where each other is going to be. … You got to be able to play good defense, but when you have the soccer ball, you got to be able to pass.”

This chemistry resulted in a goal during the Owls’ fourth game of the season. Wilkins scored on a pass from Johnson in Temple’s game against the University of Maryland on Aug. 31. Wilkins’ goal made the difference, as Temple defeated Maryland, 1-0, and won its third consecutive match.

Johnson said her high school matches against Absegami were always competitive because Wilkins was the team’s best scorer. 

“It was always one of the biggest matches of our season because they had Emma [Wilkins] and [sophomore midfielder] Julia [Dolan],” Johnson said. “We would always try to double-team them and they would do the same to me. It would always end up being 1-0 or in the last couple minutes of the game.”

Dolan said her coach told her and her teammates at Absegami to keep an eye on Johnson whenever they played Oakcrest.

“It’s definitely easier being on the field than playing against her because she’s a really good player,” Dolan said. “I like her scoring goals for us, instead of against me.”

Johnson also played against freshman midfielder Hailey Gutowski before arriving at Temple. Gutowski’s high school, Cinnaminson High School, defeated Oakcrest, 4-0, in the quarterfinals of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey Group 2 playoffs in November 2016. Gutowski had three assists in the game.

Despite attending different high schools, Johnson and Gutowski knew each other before their schools met in the playoffs. They played on the same club team, Player Development Academy South Pride, with freshman forward Kylie Anicic. Johnson and Gutowski met each other when Johnson joined the team at the beginning of her junior year of high school.

“Gabby was [Oakcrest’s] best player,” Gutowski said. “It was funny playing against her because we both knew each other.”

Gutowski and Anicic met each other when they played on the same Olympic Development Program when they were 13 years old. Gutowski joined PDA South Pride when she was in the sixth grade and Anicic joined years later at the beginning of her junior year in high school. 

They also played against each other during their junior years when Cinnaminson beat Kingsway Regional High School, 2-0, in September 2016. Gutowski scored one of Cinnaminson’s goals.

Anicic said playing with Gutowski and Johnson in the past helps her when they’re all on the field together.

“It definitely helps with chemistry because now we know how each other plays,” Anicic said. “It’s easier and more comfortable to be on the field if we’re all together.”

O’Connor said he recruits players from South Jersey because the coaches in the area teach “technical soccer” rather than focusing on scoring totals.

“They’re getting taught the game properly,” O’Connor said. “We don’t have as much time to teach them the fundamentals. That’s why a lot of South Jersey kids have the attitude. They’re very tough. They’re really aggressive kids who aren’t going to quit.”

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