The next three matches will make or break the Temple volleyball team’s season.
Coming off two consecutive wins against Duquense on the road and Villanova at home, the Owls will face the top two teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Dayton on Friday and Xavier Saturday.
Both the coaches and players know that these matches will not be a walk-through and understand the bearing these games have on determining if the Owls will reach the A-10 tournament.
After a date with Xavier, the Owls will square off against Broad Street rival La Salle Tuesday, which is always an emotional game as bragging rights are at stake.
Prior to the win against Duquense, the Owls suffered a tough loss to Rutgers on the road and got bumped down to sixth-place in the Northeast Region rankings, one place below Rutgers.
The recent success has come from the teams’ adaptation to changes.
Senior Christine Happel has seen a drastic jump in playing time and has taken full advantage of it.
Happel, the tallest player in the Owls rotation, has been on a blocking binge, utilizing her long arms to keep opponents from getting the ball over the net.
The Owls have done a good job in digging and recovering which has led to countless kills by outside hitters Shu Liu and Yun Xu.
Xu helped her team down the homestretch against Villanova by pouring in 16 kills and six digs with an outstanding .483 hitting percentage. Xu has also showed her jump serve, which has thrown off most defenders with the ball’s quick movements.
“She just lit it up in the last game and took the match completely away from Villanova,” Coach Bob Bertucci said. “She just crunched the ball. That was one of the finer demonstrations we’ve had from her all year in terms of experience and ability.”
The combination of Xu’s outside hitting and junior setter Solana Lee’s serving and setting will be a factor in the Owls’ late postseason charge.
Lee has shown her experience and leadership from her play on the court. She currently has a season total and career high of 994 assists. Lee handed out a remarkable 52 assists against Duquense and has been the most consistent player on the team throughout the season.
Against Villanova, Lee showed she is more than a one-dimensional player by putting on a serving clinic and putting her team ahead for good with several different serves and excellent ball placement.
Things are looking good for the Owls and there is a sense of confidence that pervades the locker room.
“We’re going to have great competition,” sophomore middle blocker Charity Hill said of the upcoming homestand. “We are going to play hard.”
Whether that means the team is laid back and not worried about the next few opponents remains to be seen, but freshman Alison Runk feels there is some fine-tuning to be done before facing Dayton.
“We need to keep our discipline,” she said. “We need to know our defensive positions and serve aggressively.”
Bertucci also feels there are still things to work on before Dayton.
“We’re still not playing smooth,” he said. “We’re still making a few too many errors. And in our rally game, errors are everything.
“I’d like to see them play a little more aggressively and that’s just a matter of them building their confidence.”
Well, this is it. The next few days will decide if the Owls will be in the A-10 tournament or logging on to the Internet to see who took the crown.