Practice on the day before a match was often all-business for the Owls this season.
At the Friday morning practice before the last regular season match against Lehigh University, the team was having some fun, finishing practice with an intrasquad singles and doubles tournament.
“Sometimes practice can get pretty heated,” freshman Eric Biscoveanu said. “We just like to keep a competitive mindset the day before a match, and we all really enjoy playing against each other.”
The Owls (17-9, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) have grown to embrace a loose mindset as the season has progressed. Despite having four additions to the 2016-17 roster, Temple’s chemistry feels like the group has been together for years.
As the team briefly reflects on its season and looks forward to match-ups against some of the toughest teams they’ll face all year in the postseason, the Owls’ win at Penn State on April 9 stands out as the reason they’re a legitimate contender.
The win marked the first time the Owls defeated the Nittany Lions. It also came just hours after Penn State beat the University of Indiana at Bloomington, then 45th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division I rankings.
The win in State College started a four-match winning streak that the Owls will ride into American Athletic Conference tournament play.
“I’m from Pennsylvania, so I grew up hearing that Penn State is the best at everything,” Biscoveanu said. “It was a very sweet taste to beat them.”
A nine-man roster with just three juniors and seniors has won 17 matches, the third-highest win total in coach Steve Mauro’s 11-year tenure.
Temple’s 17 wins did not come free of obstacles. On-and-off injuries to both Biscoveanu and freshman Francisco Bohorquez have kept the pair sidelined for a combined seven matches.
“This team could have won even more matches if we stayed fully healthy all year,” Mauro said. “Fortunately, everyone is ready to go for the conference tournament.”
The American’s postseason tournament will get underway on Thursday with a play-in match between the eight and nine seeds. Mauro expects Temple to get the seventh seed and play its first match against No. 2 Tulsa on Friday.
Playing the role of underdog in the conference tournament is familiar territory. Since joining the American Athletic Conference prior to the 2013-14 season, the Owls have been seeded sixth, seventh and eighth in the tournament, and have won just one match in postseason play.
“We know we’re the underdog, we know no one else thinks we can win it,” junior Thomas Sevel said. “With the way we’re closing the season and the way we beat Penn State, we all now believe in ourselves even more.”
Sevel, who joined the Owls in January after playing the past two seasons at Augusta University in Georgia, won a much-needed singles match 6-4, 6-4 in the match against Penn State, helping the Owls squeeze out the 4-3 victory.
“There isn’t any unbeatable team in this year’s tournament,” Mauro said. “This team has only gotten better as the season has gone on and that’s the mindset that all the guys have right now.”
Dan Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dan_wilson4.