Underclassmen gain experience in losing season

Ending with a 2-16 record, the Owls recorded their lowest win total in 41 years.

JAMIE COTTRELL / FILE PHOTO Freshman midfielder Annie Judge advances the ball in the Owls’ 3-2 loss against Providence College at Howarth Field on Sept. 25.

It’s been two years since the field hockey team won a conference game.  

Temple University finished this season with a 2-16 record. For the first time since 1977, the team recorded the fewest wins in a season in which they played 15 or more games.

Temple lost 10 straight after its Sept. 23 victory against Towson University. That losing streak is the program’s longest since its eight-game skid in 2015, coach Marybeth Freeman’s first year at Temple.

This season, conference opponents outscored the Owls 38-10, and Temple missed the postseason for the second straight year.

The Owls played a tough schedule, facing five nationally ranked opponents, including three in conference play. The Owls’ young players, however, gained valuable experience, as three of the team’s seven true freshmen played at least 700 minutes.

“I wanted to improve on my speed and everything as a player, and [Freeman] and the coaching staff really helped me with that,” said freshman midfielder and forward Tali Popinko, who scored two goals in 16 games. 

Freshman midfielder and forward Nienke Oerlemans scored one goal and added three assists in 14 games. Her first assist came in the first game of the season. 

Last month, Oerlemans missed four games near the end of the season due to a lower-body injury but returned for the final three games. Oerlemans led the freshman class with five points, matching redshirt-senior midfielder and co-captain Maris Stern for fourth most on the team. 

Freshman midfielder Annie Judge and freshman back Claire Thomas each started 12 games. Thomas recorded two defensive saves and logged all 70 minutes in seven games.

“She’s got a really good skill set,” senior goalkeeper Chloe Johnson said of Thomas. “She’s fast, she’s speedy, she’s one of the fastest backs I’ve ever had.”

Temple will also return more experienced players to its defensive unit. Sophomore back Dani Batze recorded seven defensive saves, which is tied for third in Division I. Junior back Becky Gerhart was close behind, with six defensive saves, including two in the Owls’ final game.

Johnson, who is graduating, played in 17 of Temple’s games in 2018 and led Temple’s three goalkeepers in save percentage. 

Sophomore Cristina Carotenuto and junior Maddie Lilliock look to replace Johnson as the team’s goalkeeper next season. 

Carotenuto started against Drexel and appeared in five games. In her first season of action, she recorded a .667 save percentage.

Lilliock, who started 11 of the Owls’ games in 2017 and was the starter in 2016 as a freshman, was “unavailable” for most of the 2018 season, Freeman said.

The Owls have received a commitment from high school goalkeeper Molly Frey, according to Max Field Hockey.

Temple’s defense conceded many offensive opportunities. Temple goalkeepers made 9.17 saves per game, second-most in Division I behind the College of the Holy Cross.

“The goalkeeping group that we have right now has been a really strong learning environment,” Johnson said. “We’re a really strong unit. … It’s not about you, it’s about helping everybody else.”

In September, Temple hired assistant coach Ross Gilham-Jones, whose primary focus is on the team’s attacking players. 

Popinko said that adding Gilham-Jones was a positive part of her season. 

Temple won’t lose its top three leaders in points — junior midfielder and co-captain Kathryn Edgar and junior forwards Cristen Barnett and Lucy Reed — to graduation, so Gilham-Jones will have an opportunity to work with them for a full season.

“[Gilham-Jones] provides a lot of valuable insight,” Freeman said. “The players have really, really attached themselves to him. And I think that he’s a great teacher.”

Freeman said the Owls need to improve in both individual defense and shots on goal, Freeman said. Temple ranked last in the Big East in goals per game, assists, goals allowed and finished second to last in shots per game.

“We’ll continue to look at our grit and our tenacity on both sides of the ball,” Freeman said. 

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