Playing on the road has not been an easy task for the volleyball team this season.
An even tougher goal looms for the Owls this weekend as they finish their season on the road against Atlantic Ten Conference rivals Charlotte and George Washington.
Friday’s win over La Salle at Tom Gola Arena should provide the Owls with a burst of confidence as the team heads into the final stretch, coach Bob Bertucci said.
The 3-0 win (30-15, 30-24, 30-19) ended the Owls’ two-game losing streak and marked the first time the Owls had beaten an A-10 team on the road since they topped Duquesne Sept. 22.
“The importance of this one is that it guarantees that we’re going to go into the [A-10] tournament,” Bertucci said.
“Hopefully we’ll build some momentum going into our last two conference matches with Charlotte and G.W. Those two are key. If we win both of those, we’ll get first place in our division and get the bye going into the championship.”
The Owls currently sit atop the A-10 East standings with a 7-4 record. George Washington and Charlotte are ranked second and third, respectively, with a 5-6 record.
The conference’s top six teams advance to tournament. The third through sixth-seeded teams play in the first round on Nov. 17 in Dayton, Ohio.
Sophomore Patricia Vernon, who led the Owls Friday with 15 kills and three blocks, said she was pleased with how the team performed against the Explorers.
“We had a goal that Coach gave to us at the beginning of the game and we just worked hard to get it,” Vernon said. “It gives us confidence that we can end [in] first [place] on our side of the conference.”
A win over the 49ers Friday or the Colonials Saturday will clinch the division.
The Owls beat the Colonials 3-1 and the 49ers 3-0 earlier this season. Bertucci said he expects the games to be a challenge for the Owls since they will not be playing at home.
Bertucci said the biggest obstacle for the Owls this weekend is confidence.
“The problem with confidence is not with my team, it’s the fact that we have to play on the road,” he said. “We haven’t been real good on the road this year. It’s always more comfortable at home. So we have to be prepared for a much tougher match than we saw from George Washington when they came to play us at Temple.”
“We’re really a good team. They’re much better than they think they are.”
Clinching a bye would give the Owls an easier path through the A-10 tournament.
Last season, the Owls lost in the championship match, 3-0, to Dayton. Bertucci said he does not expect to see a repeat of last year’s performance.
“I think we have some weaknesses – there’s no question about that,” he said. “And I think we’re compensating for them very well. I think for us to be successful, everybody’s got to want to win.
“I think it’s possible. I think this is a good team, but so is Xavier [9-2 A-10], so is Saint Louis [8-2], and so is Dayton [10-1]. I think we can beat any one of those teams on any given day.”
Melissa DiPento can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.