Maybe it was better it ended this way.
It took the Owls until the final game to clinch, but following a straight-set sweep of La Salle (4–26, 0–14 Atlantic 10 Conference) on Senior Night, Temple (18–10, 8–6 A-10) is heading back to the A-10 tournament for the first time since 2009.
Senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said she relished the opportunity to clinch at home in the final game.
“Going out we all knew this was a do-or-die kind of game,” Tupuola said. “It was definitely a huge goal for us that we had to come out and come out with fire.”
Temple needed a win to lock up the fifth seed in the tournament. The volleyball team is guaranteed at least one more game this season when the Owls travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., to take on fourth-seeded Duquesne (22–10, 9–5 A-10) on Friday, Nov. 16.
“I don’t think we’re going to do anything drastically different,” coach Bakeer Ganes said about preparing for his first postseason match as coach. “We lost at their place earlier in the season, so this is a great opportunity for us to go out there and see what we can do.”
The Owls were swept by the Dukes in the teams’ first meeting this season. Junior outside hitters Elyse Burkert and Gabriella Matautia combined for 22 kills while Tupuola recorded 18 digs, but Temple struggled due to a height disadvantage. Dukes’ junior outside hitter Allison Foschia and sophomore middle hitter Arielle Love, both at least six feet tall, combined for 30 kills for Duquesne.
“We’re going to do the same thing we’re supposed to do to get ready for Duquesne, and we’re going to go out there and see what happens,” Ganes said. “Everybody needs to understand we’re the underdog. We truly are the underdog.”
It’s a role the team has had in almost every match it has played this season, and it could be that much more noticeable on Friday, Nov. 16, with two Owls on the roster have any postseason experience.
Tupuola and fellow senior, outside hitter Caitlin McMillen, were part of the last Temple squad to make an appearance in the A-10 Tournament. Senior outside hitter Jingyu Zhang transferred to Temple and was not a member of that team.
“Our freshman year when we went to A-10’s, our first match and our only match was Dayton, and we all left it out on the floor. It did not matter what point it was,” Tupuola said.
For Tupuola, it’s exciting just to be back in her senior year.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Tupuola said. “Knowing that we’re going there this year, finishing our senior season off like that, it’s going to be awesome. And I know it’s going to be a great experience for all these girls that haven’t been there yet.”
The Owls said they know they have an uphill battle. If they’re able to get past the first match, it doesn’t get any easier.
“We’ve got to make sure that we go in focused and out to win, not going to not lose,” Matautia said. “As long as we play as a team, and at our best potential, we can beat all those teams. I fully believe that, even though everyone else is like, ‘No way.’”
Temple’s victory guaranteed them the fifth seed ahead of Butler, George Washington, Fordham and Rhode Island, all of which were fighting for one of the last two available spots in the tournament. Despite being ahead one game heading into the final weekend, the Colonials fell 3–1 to Duquesne, which allowed Butler to step into the final spot due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with George Washington.
The Bulldogs (17–11, 7–7 A-10) will take on fellow A-10 newcomer Virginia Commonwealth University (24–5, 10–4 A-10), the third seed. Dayton (23–4, 14–0 A-10) and Xavier (19–10, 11–3 A-10) clinched the top two seeds and have a first-round bye.
For the seniors, now is the time to play their best volleyball of the season if they don’t want to be a one-and-down team.
“It’s probably very cliché, but play every game like it’s your last one,” Tupuola said.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.