The Owls’ former forward and captain Niki Conn has been a fixture and face of women’s soccer for four years. Her efforts will be missed as Temple enters the season with one of its youngest rosters in recent memory, without Conn.
Conn, who started in 68 matches at Temple, led the Owls in scoring each of her four seasons. Her career total of 27 goals is tied for second-most goals in school history and her 62 career points ranks third in school history.
“[Conn] was one of the most prolific goal scorers that this program has ever seen,” coach Matt Gwilliam said. “You cannot replace a Niki Conn.”
Gwilliam said he sees five to six players that could step in to help fill the hole left by Conn, saying that it will be a collective group effort. With such a young team, Gwilliam said that people do not expect much during the maturation process.
“This group is going to grow as a team and we are hoping to catch some teams by surprise this season,” Gwilliam said.
Gwilliam said he expects senior midfielder Jourdan Brill and senior forward Morgyn Seigfried to play a large role this season. Along with Brill and Seigfried, senior captain Kate Yurkovic is expected to lead the young Temple squad both on and off the field. “[Yurkovic] is a great leader, I have never questioned her leadership and I expect a lot out of her this year,” Gwilliam said.
Yurkovic sees her responsibility as captain as a nice feeling, but understands everyone else still has their own responsibilities on the field.
“With a younger team, you have to watch over the freshman a little more and be a better example for them,” Yurkovic said. “They need somebody to help them out, whereas the older girls already know what to do.”
Last season, Yurkovic played in all 18 of Temple’s matches, scoring one goal and notching one assist. Yurkovic was also able to learn a thing or two about how to be a captain and a leader from Conn.
“I watched her last year and how she handled the team,” Yurkovic said. “I try to handle the team the same way she did.”
Although Yurkovic acknowledges that there cannot be another Conn right away, she believes that a few of the young players can step up and be a goal scorer for the Owls if they can continue to be aggressive on the field.
“I would personally like to score more goals this season,” Yurkovic said. “[Conn] did a great job for us, but we need to score more and move on after the regular season.”
With 15 freshman, one sophomore, seven juniors and seven seniors, the Owls will have one last shot at a run in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament before joining the Big East next season.
“Everyone is going to be a key player if everyone does their job,” Yurkovic said. “Not one person will run the show. It will be a collective group effort.”
Freshman forward Brendi Ernst said she chose Temple for the campus, the coaching staff and the accessibility for family outside of Gettysburg, Pa., to attend Temple matches.
First recruited by Gwilliam while he was at Virginia Tech, Ernst chose to follow Gwilliam to Temple after considering a few other schools, including Gwilliam’s former school.
Ernst has yet to hit the field this season due to a left foot injury she acquired this summer with her club team.
“I trained really hard after winning nationals this summer and then it all caught up to me,” Ernst said. “Coach Gwilliam is very nice and is very understanding of my injury and keeping me positive while I have been down.”
Along with Ernst, freshman midfielder Paige Rachel is joining the Owls for her first season at Temple. She said that she chose Temple because she wanted to move farther away from her home in New Hampshire.
Rachel said that both Gwilliam and Yurkovic have been really helpful and supportive to her and the entire team.
“The whole team has high expectations,” Rachel said. “I want to help out in any way I can.”
John Murrow can be reached at email@example.com.