As Temple closed out the 2016 Hilton Penn’s Landing Cherry & White Challenge Saturday night, two things were consistent in their sweep of Rutgers University. One was the boisterous support of the students in the west bleachers of McGonigle Hall. The other was a dominance in net play, as the Owls executed their offense and forced 22 errors from the Scarlet Knights.
While both teams feature at least five players at 6-foot-1 inch or taller, Rutgers had an edge on paper up front with two Scarlet Knights at 6-foot-3 inches. This didn’t faze Kyra Coundourides. The 5-foot-10-inch junior setter who could be seen directing her teammates with calls and clasping her jersey between serves.
“We weren’t looking at height,” Coundourides said. “We were like, we’re going to be aggressive like we always are, we’re going to play our game, and have fun.”
Aggressive play at the net proved to be the catalyst to the 25-13, 25-14, and 25-18 victory, the Owls’ first three-set sweep of the season. When Temple controlled the serve, blocks and kills prolonged their turns, while they also truncated Rutgers’ chances to serve back into the sets. Temple finished the evening with a 33.7 hitting percentage while allowing just 1.1 percent to their opponent.
Attacking the net, the Owls had 41 kills in 88 attempts and just 12 errors. In contrast, the Knights converted 23 kills in 89 attempts and hit negatively in the second set. Head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam credited his setter with conducting the offensive dominance in the second set where Temple registered a match-high 44.4 hitting percentage.
“That really went back to the transition work,” Ganesharatnam said. “We were able to make sure all the hitters were available on a consistent basis. Kyra did a really good job putting them into position to have high-percentage kill opportunities.”
After dispatching the University of New Hampshire in the morning, the Owls returned for their final match of the challenge looking for their first win against a Power 5 opponent this season.
Rutgers plays in the Big 10, a conference that boasts eight teams in the AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll, including three in the top five. Temple dropped close contests to Virginia Tech and the University of Alabama last weekend in Puerto Rico, and a five-set heartbreaker to tournament champions Cleveland State on Friday night.
The Owls (4-3) are 4-1 at McGonigle Hall. Coach Ganesharatnam scheduled ambitiously for non-conference play, after the Owls finished second in the American Athletic Conference but didn’t get invited to the NCAA National Championship tournament last fall.
“This is by far the best non-conference schedule we’ve been playing at Temple since I’ve been here, RPI-wise,” Ganesharatnam said. “Every weekend is very, very competitive. This weekend overall should give us a lot of confidence moving forward.”
The Owls will face Villanova, Penn, and La Salle in next weekend’s Big 5 Tournament before their next match at McGonigle Hall, a tilt with Tulane to start American Conference play. If the team can continue their strong net play and attacking style, those boisterous fans could be making noise, along with the team, when the tournament starts in December.
Marco Cerino can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CerinoRoyale.