Last year the volleyball team defended its home floor, earning a split against Atlantic Ten Conference heavyweights Dayton and Xavier in the regular season. This season the team left the safety of McGonigle Hall for two of its biggest games.
The Owls dropped them both.In rematches of last year’s A-10 tournament match-ups, the Owls lost back-to-back games to the Flyers and Musketeers last weekend. Temple fell, 3-1, to the Musketeers Saturday, 24 hours after concluding a 3-0 loss to the Flyers.
The defeats knocked the Owls to 10-10 overall and 3-3 in A-10 play. Xavier improved to 11-8 overall and 4-1 in conference play, while Dayton upped its overall record to 14-5 and 4-0 against A-10 opponents.
Adding to the pressure of facing their tough opponents, the Owls went into the matches with a 1-5 road record. They are 8-1 when playing at home. Temple headed to Dayton for a rematch of last season’s A-10 Championship match, in which the Owls fell to the Flyers 3-0.
The result this time was much of the same. A strong front line keyed Dayton’s 3-0 sweep as the Flyers posted their 16th straight win against conference opponents. Junior outer hitter Yue Liu led the Owls with 15 kills and outer hitter Glory Epelle, a true freshman, added six of her own. But as strong as the Owls’ offense was, their defense couldn’t stop Dayton senior Faye Barhorst, who notched 15 kills. Last year, the Owls stopped Barhorst, holding her to a .200 hitting percentage in their only regular season meeting. This time, Barhorst hit .542 against the Owls.
“With Dayton, we were right with them in the first half of each game, and then they would score a few points, go ahead, and we would just fold,” junior middle blocker Christina DeMarco said.
“We are capable of beating both those teams.”
Historically, Temple has been a capable opponent for both Dayton and Xavier. In coach Bob Bertucci’s 12-year tenure at Temple, the Owls are 14-10 versus Dayton and 14-13 against Xavier. The loss to Dayton ended the Owls’ three game-winning streak and forced Temple to leave a lot of energy on the floor. After a physical game, the Owls had to dig out whatever was left to face Xavier.
Liu posted 21 of Temple’s 64 kills against the Musketeers, but it wasn’t enough to get past Xavier, which took the final three matches after the Owls won the opener.
Temple had the Musketeers’ number last season, capturing last year’s regular season match 3-2. The Owls also defeated them 3-1 in the A-10 semifinals.
Xavier, playing just its second home game in over a month, fed off the play of senior Astyn Bjorklund who led all players with 22 kills and a .594 hitting percentage.
Sophomore Patricia Vernon and Epelle added 10 kills each in the match as Temple tried to battle back in the final three matches. Despite dropping these two matches, the Owls know they will likely have to beat one or both of those teams in the postseason if they are to win the conference championship.
In a preseason poll of the coaches in the A-10 Conference, Temple was picked to win the East Division, with Dayton edging out Xavier for the West Division crown.
Last season Bertucci likened the regular season matches to battles in a bigger war, that war being the A-10 tournament. The onus to win those battles fell upon setter Maira Mogollon.
With the graduation of senior captain Zhen Jai Liu, the onus now falls upon the rest of the Owls’ offense to fill her shoes against a fast paced Xavier team and a big Dayton front line. Temple returns home to McGonigle Hall Friday to host a George Washington team that is just 1-3 in conference play and 1-3 on the road.
Dani Milner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.