It happened too late, but the women’s soccer team appeared to be running on all cylinders as their season came to a close Sunday.
The Owls (4-13-2, 2-5-2) remained unbeaten in their last five games, defeating St. Bonaventure, 2-1, and battling Fordham to a 1-1 tie in two weekend contests.
With their recent streak of success, the Owls could only try to answer one question – how competitive could the team have been had they won some of their earliest games this season?
Coach David Jones said the Owls’ record would not have been dramatically different.
“Honestly, I thought we were going to be around .500 this season,” said Jones, who coached the Owls to a 4-14-1 record in his first year on the job in 2004.
For a fifth consecutive season, the Owls finished with a losing record. The team has not qualified for the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament since 1995.
Jones said several factors contributed to the team’s performance.
“We had a couple of injuries that hurt us and, looking back, we probably should not have played as tough of a non-conference schedule that we did,” he said.
Injuries to junior Elizabeth Tarasevich and transfer Ashley Minchhoff thrust goalkeeper Tiffany Kasunich into the net for much of the season, a situation the freshman said was a learning experience.
“I didn’t expect to play the whole season, but I’m glad I did,” Kasunich said. “It was a great experience.”
Despite Kasunich’s inexperience, the goalie gained confidence over the course of the season, Jones said.
“It’s tough coming in anywhere, stepping on the field and being asked to play right away, especially in goal because you really do stand out from everyone else,” Jones said.
The Owls started the season shakily, losing their first five games by a combined score of 16-0. Their offensive struggles continued, as they lost eight of the first 10 games by a shutout.
“We couldn’t make any breaks for ourselves where we were able to put the ball in the back of net,” Jones said.
Midway through the season, during a road trip against Xavier and Dayton, the Owls had a team meeting where players were able to discuss on- and off-field issues and put a positive spin on the season, according to senior defenseman Jaclyn Conn.
“There was a lack of communication [within the team] that transpired onto the field,” Conn said. “Everyone had to realize their part on this team and let others help them to be successful individually and collectively.”
Freshman forward Charisma Wright said the team was closer because of the meeting.
“After our first win, we started putting everything together,” she said. “We figured each other out.”
As the season wore on, Jones said the team played better defense and became more aggressive on offense. He said Wright – who led the Owls with five goals, including three game-winners – was one of several underclassmen who improved and peaked in performance toward the end of the season.
“[Wright] had good speed and good work ethic. She was just a little raw,” Jones said of Wright’s early-season performance. “Once she got her first goal, she became hungrier and she wants to be involved more, and that makes a difference.”
Encouraged by the Owls’ late-season performance and a roster of returning players, Jones said he is looking forward to a much-improved team that will take the field next season.
“We’re going to raise our expectations even higher next year,” said Jones, who also said he wants to recruit another 10 to 12 freshmen and transfers for next season’s team.
“The pressure is going to be on the returning players, to work hard this spring and over the summer [so they can] come in ready to excel in the things that they are capable of doing,” Jones said.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.