Davenport’s season reflects Temple Volleyball’s new direction

The senior outside hitter has been a leader for Temple, helping usher in a new era for the Owls.

Temple Volleyball outside hitter Taylor Davenport has been the focal point for a new era for the Owls | LILLIAN PRIETO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

For most of her career, Taylor Davenport’s natural position was middle blocker, but when head coach Linda Hampton-Keith took over Temple Women’s Volleyball in January 2022, Davenport took on a new role: outside hitter.

After spending last season learning and adapting to the position, Davenport has since become a star for the Owls, leading them to their best season in five years. 

“I’m feeling more settled into being an outside because last season was my first season,” Davenport said. “This year, I’m handling the differences of our offense better as an outside.”

Davenport is now using her second season as an outside hitter to raise her profile as one of the best players in the American Athletic Conference. She currently ranks third in average points and fifth in average kills per set in the AAC, while leading Temple in kills and ranking second in service aces and third in blocks. 

Last season, the Owls struggled heavily in conference play, going 4-16 in the AAC, which ranked them at the bottom of the standings in Hampton-Keith’s first season. Despite the lack of success, Davenport was a bright spot on the team, finishing with 524 points and securing fifth in the AAC.

Davenport’s season also earned her a spot at the USA Volleyball National Team Open Program in February, accompanying assistant coach Jose Lugo to Colorado Springs to participate in the three-day event.

“You have to challenge your level of commitment,” Hampton-Keith said. “She’s just somebody who has not only challenged her own level of commitment but also challenged the commitment of those around her.”

This season has been an entirely different story for the Owls. After winning just 10 games last year, they flipped the script and finished with their best record since 2017, at 17-14. 

Davenport has been key to the team’s success and functions as a leader for the new faces on the roster, like graduate transfers Avery Luoma and Olivia Vance. 

Since they joined the team in the spring, the pair have bought into Hampton-Keith’s culture of teamwork and accountability, which Davenport encourages. Luoma and Vance are second and third, respectively, in kills for the Owls, and both have strong defensive numbers.

The outside hitter partially attributes her success to her teammates stepping up this season, especially on the defensive end with the Owls eighth in the conference in kills. 

The bolstered roster offers Davenport more opportunities at open looks, and her play has improved, becoming AAC Player of the Week and Temple Athletics’ “Athlete of the Month” in September. She became the 22nd Owl with more than 1,000 career kills on Oct. 27 and is almost 20 kills away from making the top-20 in kills in Temple’s history.

“Working hard in practice and in the gym, pushing ourselves to be better,” Davenport said. “My game specifically, I feel like I’ve benefited from that process of just working hard in practice, every day working hard and being pushed by the people who are in the gym.”

When Davenport first joined the Owls, reaching 1,000 kills was something she had never thought of accomplishing. The achievement was an accumulation of the practices and games that helped her get to that point, Davenport said.

“That was really, really cool,” Davenport said. “I’m just grateful for that milestone in my career, coming in as a middle, that’s like something you never think of happening because that doesn’t happen, thinking about my career, I’m just thankful.”

Teammates who have been with Davenport since she came in as a freshman have seen her growth over the years. Libero Falanika Danielson has played four seasons with Davenport and was aware of her talent, so she was not surprised when Davenport picked up outside just as easily as playing inside.

“She was like this amazing middle,” Danielson said. “Just seeing her expand her skills out to like more in the game, it was amazing to see that and her growth as a leader as well.”

Hampton-Keith switched up the offense this season by creating new formations aimed at expanding the capabilities of the team and the new players she has. The new sets have Davenport getting different sets from her teammates, but she has still been able to excel this season. 

“What’s been awesome with Taylor is the incredible amount of work that she’s put in,” Hampton-Keith said. “She’s been putting in the work and she’s still learning and growing, but yet she’s still been performing.” 

Davenport continues to impress everyone around her. While she is the focal point of the roster, she has made the rest of the team better, fueling her play this season. 

As the Owls continue their best season in years, Davenport credits the people that have gotten her to this point. She hopes this is the foundation of a new era of Temple Volleyball.

“Proving people right is what our coach talks about a lot,” Davenport said. “Having so many people in my corner like my family and my mom, the teammates, coaches like all of that has really helped me in my career.”

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