Temple’s four-match winning streak ended last weekend after back-to-back losses at the Penn Tennis Center on Friday against the University of Delaware and on Saturday against Penn.
During the streak, Temple possessed something it never had at any point in the season. The Owls finally had all their players available to them in their seventh match of the season and second win of the streak, a 5-2 victory against Connecticut on March 2.
Over the weekend, Temple (5-6, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) was shorthanded again. Senior Yana Khon missed both matches with the flu. Senior Monet Stuckey-Willis won her doubles match with junior Alice Patch to help the Owls claim the doubles point in Friday’s 4-3 loss to Delaware, but she missed Saturday’s 6-1 loss to Penn with a shoulder injury, coach Steve Mauro said.
“I think if we’re healthy, I think we win the match,” Mauro said. “But it didn’t go our way. It’s a long season, now. I’d rather be injured now in midseason than toward the end of the season when we have our [American Athletic Conference] championships.”
“We need the girls to be a little bit more consistent and be more patient on the court,” he added. “We felt that they weren’t patient enough, trying to finish points early. So we like them to kind of grind a little bit more on the court and wait for their opportunities before they go after their big shot.”
The Owls dropped four of their first five matchups to start the year. Injuries and illnesses affected the team early in the season, leaving the Owls with incomplete lineups and starting matches at a disadvantage.
Mauro, senior Alina Abdurakhimova and sophomore Cecilia Castelli all suffered from flu-like symptoms. Additionally, senior Rimpledeep Kaur and freshman Oyku Boz were recovering from injuries before they made their spring debuts against UConn.
While those players were sidelined, others had to play in spots where they were uncomfortable in practices and matches, assistant coach Frederika Girsang said.
On Feb. 22, Girsang said she expected Temple to be a better team than last year’s squad, but she said players had to maintain a positive attitude while their teammates worked to return.
“We practice with certain doubles teams all week and then all the sudden right before the match, you’re playing with a different partner, so it’s very difficult,” Mauro said. “We just have to be resilient. I think people will get healthy, and once they get healthy, I think we’ll be a contender in the [American Athletic Conference].”
Two of the Owls’ wins during their streak came against conference opponents. They beat Cincinnati, 4-3, on Feb. 24 before they defeated UConn six days later.
Temple had four conference matches on its schedule, but its March 3 match against Tulane got canceled because the Green Wave couldn’t travel from New Orleans to Connecticut due to a storm in the Northeast.
The match will not be rescheduled, so Temple will finish the season with a winning record in conference play for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Temple had a 6-1 record in the Atlantic 10 Conference during the 2011-12 regular season and advanced to the semifinal round of the conference tournament. UMass, the lone Atlantic 10 team to beat Temple in the regular season, defeated the Owls, 4-3, for the second time to advance to the championship.
The Owls went 3-6 in their final season in the Atlantic 10 in 2012-13. Temple posted a 3-12 conference record in its first four years in The American, including a 1-4 mark last season.
In addition to clinching their first winning conference season since 2012, the Owls will also record their first season with more than one conference win since the 2012-13 season.
The Owls have seven matches remaining before The American’s postseason tournament from April 18-21 in Dallas.
If the Owls sweep the regular season, they will finish with a 12-6 overall record, which would be their best finish since the 2015-16 season. Temple went 12-5 overall and 1-1 in conference play that year.
“It feels really good, especially knowing that going into the conference tournament that we will have a better first one or two rounds,” Stuckey-Willis said. “I feel like we can go really far. Everyone is playing really well. Everyone is a good tennis player, so I feel if we all come together and focus, we can do really well this season.”