Women’s soccer team rallies around the new coach

New coach hopes to lead transfers and returning stars to success. The women’s soccer team were ready for a makeover this season, and it looks like it got one. This year’s program has been turned

New coach hopes to lead transfers and returning stars to success.

The women’s soccer team were ready for a makeover this season, and it looks like it got one.

This year’s program has been turned around in all aspects of the game, and the team is ready to get on the ball and get noticed. With a completely new coaching staff, change is inevitable and necessary to bolster the Owls to a higher level of play. The team has not reached the post season since 1995.

Joining for his first season as coach is Matt Gwilliam, former assistant coach of Virginia Tech women’s soccer, a team that went to three straight years of NCAA tournament play. While a member of the Hokies’ staff for three seasons, he has accumulated eight total years of experience coaching at the Division 1 level. Previously at Citadel and Marshall, he was primarily responsible for coaching the defense and training the goalkeepers. The Owls’ position of coach had been held by David Jones for the past eight seasons, but now Gwilliam has been selected to lead the women, and he views the changes as a strong potential for growth.

“I’m a new coach. This is a new team,” Gwilliam said. “We are a blank slate this year, a blank slate that can only be improved upon.”

Assisting the new coach is Seamus O’Connor, who most recently coached both men and women at Chestnut Hill College. Kelly Lynch, a former defender for Virginia Tech, also joins the staff as graduate assistant coach. During her time at Virginia Tech, she played in all 86 games, tying a school record.

Leading from the pitch will be seniors defender Samantha Farlow, forward Niki Conn and junior midfielder Kate Yurkovic, who have been named this year’s captains.

With a 2010 record of 6-12-1 and 1-6-1 in the Atlantic Ten Conference, the team hopes to improve upon last season, when they finished in 14th place. Of her four years on the team, Conn said she has noticed a difference.

“When I started, the team was more cliquey and separated,” Conn said. “We’ve really come together as players and a team. I’ve seen a big change.”

Top Returning Players

Sixteen players have returned to the Owls in 2011, with Conn leading up top. Conn finished second in the A-10 last season in both shots (87) and shots per game (4.6) last season, while finishing fourth in goals (10) and points scored (24), despite the team’s losing record. Conn earned an All-Conference honorable mention for the second season running.

Second in goals were Yurkovic and her sister Alicia, with five goals each. Kate Yurkovic will be counted on to lead on the offensive line. Farlow has played in all games for the past two seasons, and continues to provide vocal and physical support from the defense. Juniors Tara Murphy and Gillian Kacsuta are both vying for action in goal, with Murphy accumulating 1,022 minutes in 2010 compared to Kacsuta’s 450. Murphy’s biggest concern for the season is how well the defense will work together.

“We need to work on communication,” Murphy said. “When we have that, we have high hopes.”

Players to Watch

Out of the six newcomers, Gwilliam picked up three transfer students, and five of the six are defenders. Junior Casey Greco and sophomores Karly O’Toole and Amanda Ward have all transferred and all three will help the team on defense. Incoming freshmen include defender Alyssa Kirk, forward/midfielder Jean Scanlan and forward Meredith Perini.

“We didn’t have much time to recruit this year,” Gwilliam said. “The team is basically the team I encountered in the spring, and we embrace everyone new. We have to embrace what we’ve got and learn how to use it.”

Looking Ahead

There is a positive energy circulating throughout the team, who remained poised in the face of their first loss to Drexel on Friday, Sept. 2. The Owls won their first two match-ups of the season against Iona and the University of Maryland Baltimore-County, 1-0 and 2-1, respectively.

“We got beat once, but we have high hopes,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be a good season.”

Elizabeth Sim can be reached at esim@temple.edu.

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