Kirsten Overton had no idea where she ranked.
The sophomore middle blocker entered the team’s weekend at Central Florida and South Florida ranked second in the American Athletic Conference in hitting percentage. Through 14 matches and two matches in The American, Overton was hitting at 41.3 percent, and she didn’t know it.
“No way,” Overton said in an excited tone. “That’s awesome.”
Overton got off to a hot start this season, being named to the All-Tournament team at the Syracuse Invitational. In all three matches at the invitational, Overton posted a hitting percentage of 50 percent or higher.
Temple left Florida hitting 24.2 percent as a team, with Overton leading the way at 40.9 percent.
For a squad that saw Gabriella Matautia and Elyse Burkert graduate, two of its big hitters from last season, production from the hitters has been a sign of growth.
“A lot of people were concerned with losing [Burkert] and [Matautia],” Overton said. “While they were really great players I feel like the underclassmen stepped up.”
The team’s hitting percentage has been boosted by junior setter Sandra Sydlik who entered the weekend fourth in The American in assists averaging 10.24 assists per set. Sydlik was named Big 5 Tournament MVP earlier this season and has noticed improvements in chemistry with the hitters.
“I think it’s getting better and better,” Sydlik said. “We’re trying to talk a lot on the court and in practice.”
As well as racking up the assists, Sydlik entered the weekend third in the conference in service aces. As a setter, Sydlik is limited in terms of scoring points for Temple, and so an improved serve has Sydlik feeling good about her contributions.
“To be honest, I’m working really hard on my serve,” Sydlik said.
Coach Bakeer Ganes said he has noticed Sydlik’s hard work and acknowledged she is an integral part of the team’s success. Ganes felt that his setter gained valuable exposure playing at a high level in Germany on the junior national team.
“She gives us a lot of experience and a lot of control over the game,” Ganes said. “Her technique is excellent. That’s one of the reasons she is converting a lot of her serves and serving aces.”
Ganes noted that the team’s high hitting percentage is a result of accurate serving and executing the team’s strategy.
“With our serves we take a lot of the opposing teams out system so they’re giving us balls we can convert into high-percentage kills,” Ganes said.
Ganes said he has also noticed all of the hitters coming together and making Temple a very versatile team offensively.
“We do have different weapons,” Ganes said. “Last year we were a little bit heavy-handed with [Matautia] and [Burkert] but this year we have multiple options and it kind of spreads out the offense.”
However, with a relatively inexperienced roster, growing pains are still part of the process. Ganes wants his team to keep learning.
“In every match we learn something that we use in order to get better,” Ganes said. “Losing is part of it. Before you succeed you have to experience failure.”
Greg Frank can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @G_Frank6