Alison Runk could have been a Nittany Lion.
Growing up in Litiz, PA, and not too far from State College she often dreamed about playing for Penn State while being recruited by one of their assistant coaches.
But Runk, this season’s Atlantic 10 Conference Setter of the Year, was recruited to play in the back row and not her current setter position for the Nittany Lions.
Had she signed, Runk could have been igniting crowds at Penn State’s Rec Center, where the team has a record of 332-20 over the past 24 years.
But Runk landed at Temple and helped her team beat Penn State on their home court to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
“We kept them quiet,” said Runk, who finished with 60 assists and set the all-time Temple assist record at 1,482.
“We knew that was a pretty high mountain to climb,” said coach Bob Bertucci of the difficulties Penn State gave the Owls.
“The fact that they were playing at home added to the difficulty of the task. The great equalizer was the serve. If you can serve aggressively, that puts pressure on a team that’s better at the net.”
At the net, junior Margaret Majewska contributed nine digs, Yamit Haba added 23 digs and Xu Yun had 15 digs.
The Owls will now try to bring Runk’s calamity to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, where they will face the Florida Gators in the Eastern Regional semifinal of the national tournament.
The Gators, ranked first in the south region, boast a squad of several explosive juniors and one senior.
Senior Nicole McCray has a team-high .410 attack percentage this season and could pose a threat against the short frontline of the Owls.
But the Owls will keep a closer eye on junior Aury Cruz, a native of Puerto Rico, who leads the team with 897 attacks and 50 service aces.
Statistics may differ, but their schedules had some similarities as both teams had four common opponents scheduled.
Florida and Temple both faced Auburn, Rhode Island, Penn State and American University before facing each other.
Both teams finished with perfect records; Temple 5-0 (with two conference wins against URI) and Florida 4-0.
“They’re a lot stronger and bigger from the teams in the A-10,” said senior captain Solana Lee of the Gators.
“We just have to pick up our defense.”
The Gators posted 16.19 kills per game and had an attack percentage of .326.
Temple had a compatible 16.60 kills per game and a modest .242 attack percentage in the regular season.
That minute difference, coupled with the Gators’ having seven players over 6 feet (compared to the four players on Temple’s squad), could add more difficulty to this game.
“It’s the next level,” said Bertucci of the level of play he expects from Florida.
The next level will be more difficult than the previous, and home court advantage is something volleyball teams thrive on in the Big Dance.
Temple has won in big arena’s like the Cintas Center, which hosts Xavier home games and the A-10 Championships and the Rec Center where the Owls stumped Penn State on their home court.
They have recently practiced at the Liacouras Center, which rarely plays host to Temple volleyball, but is similar to the other sites in terms of capacity.
“We just have to perform so we don’t give them a whole lot to cheer about,” Bertucci said.
“It’s going to be a big arena. I think this team is ready for a big arena.”
“I think our girls just have to have confidence in what they do if they want to get through it, and not be concerned about the other team,” he said.
“Sometimes your biggest opponent is yourself.”
Chris Silva can be reached at CBSRICAN@aol.com