Thanks to a balanced attack and solid defense the Owls find themselves just one win away from securing a Temple Invitational title.
Less than two hours after taking down Central Connecticut 3-1, Temple returned to the court to host Navy. The short turnaround left the team struggling to stay fresh, and coach Bakeer Ganes had to dig deep into his bench to hold onto a straight-set sweep.
“We definitely wanted to spread it out a little bit just because we played a match earlier,” Ganes said. “So we didn’t want one person to get 50 sets.”
Eight Owls recorded at least one kill, with junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia leading the charge with a match-high 14. Other than Matautia, only Navy junior outside hitter Erin Fortner reached double-digit kills.
Matautia hasn’t led the Owls in kills for several matches, but she doesn’t want to focus too much on the stats.
“I wouldn’t really say it boosts my confidence,” she said. “It kind of just makes me think about what I’m doing. I need to continue to play smart, I can’t just go swinging.”
Typically the team’s leading scorer, junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert only knocked down nine kills, as Ganes tried to limit her sets to keep her fresh.
The team attacked Navy’s serve-receive early and often in the match. Ganes felt that it was something they could take advantage of to set the tone.
“Their serve-receive is not the strongest, so we really went after the serve-receive with our serve to put them out of system right away,” he said.
Temple was able to jump out to a 25-21 first-set win thanks to a .350 hitting percentage. Navy hit .333 as well, but timely Temple kills and some miscues on defense ultimately cost Fortner and company.
The second and third sets were more about defense for the Owls, however. The team held the Midshipmen to .000 in the second set and .179 in the third as they won 25-20 and 25-23, respectively.
“Like I always say, our defense is our key so we cannot get tired, we can’t say that we’re tired or people will take advantage really quick,” senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said.
Tupuola led yet another match with 23 digs on the night. However, Ganes was quick to note that despite the stat sheet, the defense became sluggish when fatigue set in.
“We didn’t play really good defense in the third set because we didn’t move our feet, so that put us in a bad situation to set up our offense,” he said. “And plus kind of fatigue played a roll too.”
Nonetheless the Owls were able to escape with their third consecutive victory at home, improving to 9-4 on the season. They currently sit at 2-0 in the tournament, with one more win needed to secure the tournament title.
For Ganes, the victory was a bit more special, having come at the hands of Navy coach Larry Bock, who is the current NCAA record holder for wins with 1,361 entering the tournament.
“Coach Larry Boch, he’s unbelievable,” Ganes said. “He’s not just a great coach, he’s a great person. He’s always very polite. He always has open ears. He’s definitely somebody I look up to as a coach.”
Temple will host Cornell on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the final match of the tournament. Due to a scheduling issue it will only be Cornell’s second match of the weekend.