If the volleyball team didn’t have so many freshmen, middle blocker Jacqueline Cowden would have to suspect her teammates of playing rookie jokes on her.
Before the Atlantic Ten tournament, the business major was sick, and coach Bob Bertucci had her nap instead of practicing. He assured her someone would wake her.
That never happened.
While she was sleeping, her bag, which included her uniform, was stolen.
“They forgot about me while I was sleeping,” Cowden said. “Someone in that hour took [my bag]. No one saw it. They don’t know how it disappeared. It always happens to me.”
So in the A-10 tournament, Cowden wore Allison Koenig’s No. 13.
And she had to continue wearing it in the Thanksgiving Tournament in Long Beach, Calif.
But in California, it didn’t matter if she was her usual No. 1 or some other number, because she was easily recognizable. Cowden is from the Golden State.
“I got to see people I played against in club, got to see my family,” Cowden said. “It was cool to play against people I know.
“My family has come out once or twice [to the east coast], but it was really fun playing out there.”
Cowden made sure she impressed her home state with her play. She averaged just under 10 kills and four blocks in the tournament.
Though the chance to reach the NCAA Tournament all but vanished after losing to Dayton in the A-10 tournament, the Owls refused to give up on the season until its schedule was complete.
Cal-Irvine was the final team on the schedule for Temple, a match the Owls won Sunday, 3-1.
“As a team, it was the best match we played all year,” Bertucci said.
But the 3-1 score does no part in telling how close the match really was. Each game went down to the wire.
After winning Games 1 and 2, 32-30 and 33-31, respectively, Temple dropped the third, 30-26, before ending the match with a 31-29 Game 4 win.
Total score: Temple 122, Irvine 120.
“Our team finally played as a team,” Bertucci said. “Every one of those games could have went either way. Everyone put the effort out there.”
But the cross-country trip was far from flawless.
The 3-1 score was the same in the Owls’ first two matches of the Thanksgiving Tournament in which they played Long Beach State and Cal-Santa Barbara. But Temple was on the losing end of both.
Despite dropping two of three games, Bertucci sees a bright future with his young players.
“The big thing about the weekend was that we went out there and played the top California teams,” Bertucci said. “In volleyball, that’s the standard. Can you beat the California teams?
“California teams are considered the best, and we put pressure on them.”
Sophomore Jackie Morrison was a big part of the Owls’ high-quality play.
The setter reached a career high with 44 assists in the first match, only to outdo herself and get 54 and 56 respectively in the final two. She added 10 and 11 digs in the last two to notch double-doubles.
Freshman Cayleigh Ashman set her own career marks, totaling nine blocks vs. Long Beach State.
Seniors Yue Liu and Sun Ying Ling are done with their altering of Temple’s record books.
“It will be very difficult to replace the seniors,” Bertucci said. “It’s going to be a challenge going forward.”
Sophomore Yun Yi Zhang, who averaged nearly 20 kills per game in Long Beach, is ready for the challenge.
“Yue leaving puts a lot of pressure on me and [Patricia Vernon],” the outside hitter said. “We will need leadership, and I will work very hard to be the one.”
Vernon knows it will be difficult filling the shoes of Liu.
“I could never replace Yue,” said Vernon, who contributed over 16 kills per game in California.
If things were going according to plan, the seniors wouldn’t be done playing. The first round of the 27th Annual Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship starts Thursday.
But like last year, the year before, and every year following 2002, it’s a tournament the Owls (16-20 overall, 9-4 Atlantic Ten) will not be participating in.
For the seniors, will they look back at their careers and be unhappy about never winning an A-10 Championship or be satisfied with the success they had?
“I will choose the latter,” Ling said. “I don’t want to think negatively.”
The players were happy they ended with a win, though.
“We definitely ended on a good note,” Morrison said. “We ended with a win versus a real good team that was playing better than we were.”
Bertucci isn’t going to predict how the team will do next year, but he hopes that this season works as a practice for the future.
“These players have gotten a lot of experience,” Bertucci said. “Going into next year, that makes us much further along competitively.”
Now, Cowden just hopes her belongings make their way back to Philadelphia. This time it was the airport that lost her luggage.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at email@example.com.