Volleyball coach Bob Bertucci has had no problem leading his team to the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament. In fact, the only year the Owls were not in tournament play under Bertucci was in 1995 – his first season as coach.
The problem has been winning the A-10 Tournament, a feat the Owls have not accomplished since 2002.
And running into Dayton, ranked No. 16 in the country, did not help end the drought.
Despite double-doubles from junior Patricia Vernon (13 kills and 10 digs) and sophomore Yun Yi Zhang (11 kills and 10 digs), the Owls could not knock out the Flyers, led by redshirt junior Erin Schroeder (51 assists and 18 digs) and senior Jamie-Lee Richards (17 kills).
Zhang was unhappy that her play was not enough to help the Owls advance past the semifinals, but she’s keeping her head up.
“I have no regrets at all,” she said. “We played really great. We didn’t have enough confidence to beat them.”
Bertucci knew his team would likely have to face off with Dayton at some point if he was to add another A-10 trophy to his office desk. He also knew it would be a difficult match up.
“Dayton continued the run they started at the beginning of the season,” Bertucci said. “Our team was probably the best suited to upset them. We have the size. It came down to the fact that we made more mistakes than they made.”
The momentum from the Flyers’ win against Temple Saturday carried over to Sunday’s championship game, where the Flyers went on to sweep Xavier. The Musketeers were the only team to beat the 30-1 Flyers this season, but Dayton took charge and walked away with the A-10 trophy.
A trophy the Owls wish they owned.
“We went into the tournament with the intention to win the tournament,” Bertucci said. “We knew if we beat [Dayton] in the semifinals, we could win it.”
Perhaps no one could have wanted it more than the seniors.
“Every year we have the goal to win a championship,” said senior Yue Liu, who led Temple with 16 digs in the match against Dayton. “Every year we’re so close to winning but don’t get it. I was hoping I could have won one.”
The first three games in Charlotte between Temple and Dayton were close. Unfortunately for the Owls, the first two were in Dayton’s favor.
Temple led 21-20 in Game 2, but the Flyers regrouped after a timeout and a Temple error and went on to win the game, 30-26.
The Owls refused to go down easily and jumped out to a 21-14 lead in Game 3. But Dayton made a comeback and tied it up at 24-24 before Temple pulled out a 30-27 nail-biter.
“If it wasn’t for Cayleigh Ashman’s great serving, there wouldn’t have been a fourth game,” Bertucci said.
Dayton showed why they were ranked the best in the A-10 in what ended up the final game. They silenced the Owls with a 30-14 ambush.
“In Game 4, [Dayton] served tougher,” Bertucci said. “We were pressing to just stay in the game.”
“The last game we beat ourselves,” Zhang added.
The Owls (15-17 overall, 9-4 A-10) will round out the season in California, where they will face off in the Long Beach Thanksgiving tournament. Temple begins the tournament versus Long Beach State Wednesday at 10 p.m.
At this point, what does it mean for the Owls?
“This competition doesn’t have the same meaning as it did when we set it up,” Bertucci said. “We had three choices.
“If we had won the A-10 Tournament, we would have practiced against these good teams in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. If we had only one or two losses all year, beating these teams could have given us an at-large bid. We ruined that chance the second week of the season. We had too many losses. Losses against unranked teams.
“If we were in the predicament we’re in right now, then let’s just make sure it’s a trip that will help us in the future. Make it challenging and interesting. And if we’re going to recruit in California, we’ll have to go out there a couple of times in their four years. I also look at it as an opportunity to attract kids to Temple.”
It means something completely different for the seniors.
“I get to play in three more matches,” Ling said. “It’s not a big deal, but I want to win the last three games of my career.”
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org