Chance to place in top two of AAC remains after five-set win

Temple came back from a two-set deficit to beat Southern Methodist on Thursday night in Dallas.

Senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz attempts to spike the ball during the Owls’ 3-1 loss against East Carolina on Friday at McGonigle Hall. | MIKE NGUYEN / FILE PHOTO

Temple faced the situation it encountered on Thursday night earlier this season.

The Owls fell behind two sets to none against Central Florida on Oct. 15 before they came back to win.

The Owls entered Thursday’s match in Dallas in third in the American Athletic Conference behind second-place Southern Methodist. Temple lost the first two sets, but the team won the next three to beat the Mustangs, 3-2.

“Even though we were down, I never felt like we lost confidence in ourselves,” coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said. “We knew we had the players, we had the team to come back. We always strongly believed that we could beat this team.”

The victory for Temple (15-8, 11-4 The American) keeps the team in contention to finish as a top-two team in the conference. The Mustangs (18-8, 12-3 The American) are still in second place. Temple beat them in four sets on Oct. 22, so the Owls will have the advantage in any potential head-to-head tiebreaker.

Back-to-back double blocks sealed Temple’s victory. After a kill from redshirt freshman outside hitter Dana Westfield tied the fifth set at 15, senior middle blocker Janine Simmons and senior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz connected on a double block.

On the next play, Westfield and Simmons teamed up to get the match-winning double block. Temple won the fifth set, 17-15.

The Mustangs won the first set, 25-21, and the second set, 25-17. Temple combined to hit just 8.8 percent. The Owls had nine kills and 10 attack errors on 41 total attempts to hit negative 2.4 percent in the second set.

Temple came back to hit 33.1 percent in the final three sets, topped off by a match-high 44.8 percent in the fifth set. The Owls only had one attack error and 14 kills on 29 total attempts in the final set.

Three players ended with double figures in kills. Westfield led the Owls with 15. Rapacz and junior middle blocker Iva Deak and each had 14 kills.

Rapacz also had a career-high 20 digs and added eight blocks.

“She plays really good defense,” Ganesharatnam said. “Sometimes it gets overshadowed because she became such a dominant hitter for us. What she has been doing very well, especially tonight, is her movement in the back row. The movement between the touches was very good.”

Before Thursday’s match, Temple had come off a tough weekend. The Owls lost to Memphis in five sets on Nov. 3 and were swept by Wichita State on Sunday. Difficulties with Temple’s flight out of Wichita on Sunday left the team stranded on the west coast, Ganesharatnam said.

The Owls couldn’t come back to Philadelphia to practice before their match in Dallas, the first time they have played a Thursday match in The American.

“I don’t think [playing on Thursdays] is a good set up,” Ganesharatnam said. “I think the league can do a better job making sure things like this do not happen so it’s an equal opportunity for everybody involved. It’s not ideal. Obviously, a lot of teams have the same issues so we can’t use it as an excuse.”

Temple’s next match is on Saturday against Tulsa at 1 p.m. The Golden Hurricane (14-13, 8-7 The American) have won three in a row.

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