The Owls are where they want to be as the halfway point of the season approaches.
With 13 of their 23 matches left to play, the Owls (6-4, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) began conference play with a 4-3 win on Saturday against Connecticut.
The team is encouraged that it has a winning record despite facing injuries and tough nonconference opponents.
“I feel like we’re doing pretty well,” junior Monet Stuckey-Willis said. “There’s always room for improvement but for a half of the season and seeing as though a lot of players are in and out with injuries, we are doing pretty well.”
The team began its season with a 6-1 loss at Old Dominion University on Jan. 14. The Owls responded to the loss by winning four of their next five matches, including three wins the weekend of Jan. 27-29. Temple started the weekend with a win against Iowa State University then won two of its three matches at the Virginia Commonwealth University Invitational.
Temple has been inconsistent since then.
The Owls split their matches against Big 5 opponents Villanova and the University of Pennsylvania, beating the Wildcats 5-0 on Feb. 3 before they lost 6-1 to the Quakers the next day. The Owls rebounded with a 7-0 win against Fairleigh Dickinson University at the Upper Dublin Sports Center in Ambler, Pennsylvania on Feb. 10 before they fell to Georgetown University 6-1 on Feb. 14.
Temple’s loss to the Hoyas was its fourth road loss of the year. The Owls are a perfect 6-0 in matches at neutral sites and at home but winless on the road.
“It’s always tough playing on the road because of the different surfaces,” coach Steve Mauro said. “Even though they’re all hard courts, some are faster, some are slower, lighting is different so it’s definitely a disadvantage on the road. I think that plays into effect in the matches.”
Junior Alina Abdurakhimova has led the Owls so far, winning seven of her nine matches in the top singles spot. She won four singles matches in three days from Jan. 27-29, including a win against nationally ranked Iowa State senior Samantha Budai. Abdurakhimova was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for her performance.
“Alina is just a great girl, she has been since the day she got here and we are lucky to have her,” Mauro said. “She could have played at any top university. She takes everything very seriously and she’s very coachable. She’s just been a pleasure to coach for three years.”
Temple’s other juniors are also producing. Yana Khon and Stuckey-Willis are the top-positioned doubles team for Temple.
Khon has a 6-2 singles record out of the third and fourth positions. She earned the Owls’ only singles victory in the team’s losses to Old Dominion and Georgetown.
Stuckey-Willis has started primarily in the No. 2 position and has a 5-4 singles record. After suffering from various injuries in previous seasons and over the summer, Stuckey-Willis believes her success is a result of staying on the court and playing consistently.
“I’ve been more healthy,” Stuckey-Willis said. “It’s been a key for me to stay healthy, finish out practices, and play in every match.”
“Monet has really improved,” Mauro said. “She’s had some injuries she went through this summer with her back and she didn’t play in the fall, but I believe she is determined to do well this year. She could beat anyone in the country on any given day but we’re just trying to work on her staying focused and being consistent when she plays.”
Temple has suffered through multiple injuries this season. The Owls’ biggest loss has been graduate student Galina Chernykh, a transfer from the University of Rhode Island and former first-team Atlantic 10 Conference member, who injured her foot in the team’s opening match at Old Dominion.
Chernykh was expected to be the team’s top player in singles and doubles. Mauro said she underwent an MRI test on Thursday, and he is still unsure of a possible return.
“She’s a big part of our team,” Mauro said. “If we can get her back in the lineup, we should be a strong team. If we had her in the lineup, I think honestly we could have won most of our matches and maybe not lost a match this year.”
“If the girls really want it, I think we will be successful,” Mauro added. “We are as good as any team in the American Athletic Conference. … And I think the four seniors do want it and they want to finish their careers on a high note.”
Graham Foley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @graham_foley3.