Career nights leads volleyball against Saint Louis

Standout performances help Owls earn crucial five-set victory.

Junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia knocked down the second point for the Owls (17-9, 7-5 in Atlantic 10 Conference) and the final point of the match in a five-set win over Saint Louis (9-18, 3-9 in A-10), and somewhere in between tacked on 30 more.

The 32 total kills is Matautia’s career high, just two weeks after she tallied 30 in a five-set victory against Fordham. She also recorded 21 digs.

“Usually if you see an attacker you’re hot for a while and then you cool down but [Matautia] was just on the entire match,” coach Bakeer Ganes said.

“We can really rely on her,” he added. “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it’s going to keep going. I’m not going to complain and she’s doing a very good job.”

Sophomore setter Tiffany Connatser also had a career high with 57 assists, while tallying 12 digs. But they weren’t alone as senior libero Chelsea Tupuola had her own milestone, with 39 digs, averaging an impressive 7.8 digs per set.

“[Tupuola] was just money,” Ganes said. “She was passing perfect balls and did a very good job on defense too.”

The Owls had a fight from the beginning with the Billikens, dropping the opening set in extra points, 30-28. The teams battled it out again in the second set but Temple, on the road, was able to come away with a 27-25 second-set victory.

“I really thought we played pretty sloppy,” Ganes said. “If we would have played a little bit more dominant, a little bit with more determination, I think we could have separated ourselves earlier in the first set.”

After the intermission the Owls came out and made mistake after mistake, allowing Saint Louis to go on two critical runs that led to a 25-15 Temple loss. Ganes said the errors weren’t a total negative, as it showed the team loss on their own accord, not because the Billikens were better.

“It was kind of like a bad thing but at the same time we took a lot of positives out of that set and it really helped us to keep going,” Ganes said.

While they never had a commanding lead in the final two sets, the Owls used the disappointing third set as a springboard, taking the final two sets 25-15 and 15-13, respectively.

The victory keeps the Owls in control of their own destiny in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament hunt. With a head-to-head tiebreaker against Fordham and a one game lead over Rhode Island, who lost their matches on Friday, the Owls need just one victory against Butler on Sunday or La Salle next week to clinch a playoff berth, their first since 2009.

Butler is the most likely team capable of knocking out the Owls. If they can win their final two matches and Temple loses both of theirs—which also means Duquesne and George Washington must win out—then the Owls will be left on the outside looking in.

“It’s very relieving,” Ganes said. “This was a huge victory for us because it gets us really, really close to be able to qualify for the playoffs. It’s right there, we can reach it, we just have to go out there and hopefully get another win.”

The Owls return to action on Sunday when they take on conference newcomer Butler. It’s the only match the teams will have as conference foes, with the Owls departing for the Big East Conference after this season.

Jake Adams can be reached at or on Twitter @jakeadams520.

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