No member of the current squad was around the last time the Owls won their home tournament. Second year coach Bakeer Ganes doesn’t know the last time the program took home the Temple Invitational title.
So it was a bit of a welcomed surprise for Ganes and company when the final point went in their favor in a 3-0 sweep of Cornell in the final match of the tournament, securing that elusive crown.
“Going into this game we knew winning this tournament was a huge goal for us,” senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said. “It was a really good feeling, all of us are really excited, so that last point completed everything this weekend.”
Temple won in set victories of 25-22, 25-19 and 25-17. In two of those sets they never trailed, allowing the Big Red to tie those sets just three times combined. In a match that everyone expected to be much closer since Cornell defeated Central Connecticut State University 3-1 earlier Saturday, the Owls pulled out all the stops.
While the stat sheet showed an over-powering offense led the way, it was the defense that was actually the key. Tupuola had 13 digs in the match, but the team combined for 53 against Cornell’s 40 and won the blocking battle 11-5.
“Our blocking, they did their job today,” Tupuola said. “I was very proud of them. It always starts out with the block.”
But it was the serve-receive that especially set the stage for the offense.
“I think in order to control [Cornell], we played really, really well,” Ganes said. “Our serve-receive was the best we had all season long. They passed nails, it was just a beauty I think.”
Thanks to the suffocating defense, which held star junior outside hitter Kelly Marble to just 10 kills on 43 attempts and seven errors, the Owls offense exploded.
Junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert had a steady 10 kills on .226 shooting. Senior outside hitter Jingyu Zhang, barely 24-hours removed from a 19-kill performance over the Blue Devils, tacked on 11 on 21 attempts on her way to “Best Spiker” in the tournament. The first year starter proved she is a viable third option on the offense over the weekend.
“I probably felt like I had to do something to show [the team and fans], so I played really good,” she said.
“They covered all my balls so I have a good setting to hit the ball down,” Zhang added about the defense provided by Burkert and Tupuola.
But junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia was just too much for the Big Red. The Hawaiian native crushed eight kills in each of the first two sets, finishing with 20 on the night for a .529 hitting percentage, and recording 12 digs along with three aces.
“I thought this weekend she really came out and performed very well,” Ganes said. “The key for her is just to get the timing right, and she was just in the floor today against Cornell.”
The team combined to hit .347 on the night while holding Cornell to .153 in front of another respectable crowd of 217.
Temple won nine of their 10 sets on the weekend, dropping only the first set against Central Connecticut on Friday. Zhang wasn’t the only player to walk away with a medal, however. Tupuola’s 70 digs in the tournament earned her “Best Libero” as well as “Tournament MVP.”
The Owls wrapped up their non-conference schedule with the tournament, moving to 10-4 on the season as the await the arrival of Rhode Island and Fordham next weekend to kick off the Atlantic 10 Conference season.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com.