Upon his arrival here, Bakeer Ganes had to bottle up his emotions.
During the season before he took over, the Owls won just four matches. In the volleyball coach’s first year at the helm in 2011, Temple went 8-20.
But now, the Owls sit at 22-6 overall and 13-3 in the American Athletic Conference – holding the second-best record in the American Athletic Conference.
Three years after his 20-loss first season, Ganes said he would be excited if his team qualified for the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t know what that would mean,” Ganes said. “I’d probably go pretty nuts.”
But the Owls are trying stay focused on the task at hand, which this week entails road conference matches against Tulsa and Southern Methodist.
“I think it’s a very dangerous position to be in,” Ganes said. “We have to be very careful, focus and take care of business.”
Temple was in a similar position a year ago. The Owls got off to a quick start in conference play during the 2013 season, winning six of their first seven matches. However, the team couldn’t maintain the high level of play down the stretch and the Owls finished 9-9 in conference.
In 2013, the Owls had several road matches toward the end of the season and lost five of their last seven away from home. This season, the Owls play six of their last eight matches at home.
Nonetheless, for the more experienced players on the roster, last season’s struggles during the second half of conference play can be used as a lesson in the final matches of the 2014 regular season, they say.
“Last year we kind of relaxed a little bit,” junior libero Alyssa Drachslin said. “We weren’t really prepared to go on the road. I think this year our schedule has played more to the strengths of this team so that we’re able to play away and home.”
Temple has posted a 10-1 home record so far this year. Should the Owls make it through the weekend unscathed after battling with SMU and Tulsa, they’ll get to return home next week to wrap up the regular season against Tulane and Houston as their quest for the NCAA tournament continues.
A loss in any of the final four matches would damage Temple’s qualifying chances, as the Owls are ahead of three of the four teams in the conference standings and would see their ratings percentage index (RPI) lowered as a result. Losses against Memphis and Connecticut earlier this season, two other schools trailing Temple in the standings, are what keep the Owls on the bubble in the RPI standings, where they are ranked 59th.
“If we get it, that’s great,” Drachslin said. “If we don’t, we know why. We lost to Memphis and UConn and we shouldn’t have done that.”
Whether Temple is to see its season extend past the regular season finale on Nov. 28 or not, for a team that was picked to finish ninth in the American Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll, the Owls have already beat the odds.
“For them to have us predicted to finish ninth was kind of a slap in the face,” senior middle blocker Jennifer Iacobini said. “We knew that we had a lot of talent, we just had to mold it and I think that’s what we’ve done together.”
Greg Frank can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @g_frank6