Bakeer Ganes knows the importance of upcoming games.
“This is definitely the most critical part of the season,” the coach said following Temple’s most recent win against Memphis on Oct. 4. It was the Owls’ first American Athletic Conference win and it was also the first game in a five-game home stand.
The 11-4 Owls are off to their best start since 2001 and tied for second in the conference. They were predicted to finish seventh before the season. The home stretch is against teams in the conference – Houston, Southern Methodist, Connecticut and Rutgers. All have winning records excluding Rutgers. Temple will be on the road in six of its next eight games following this stay at home.
“This conference is so competitive,” Ganes said. “We have to protect our court at home and be successful as possible when we play here at McGonigle because we know how tough it is to get road wins in this conference.”
The four remaining games of the home stand will show if the Owls are ready to compete in this conference. They have developed a core group of players that are producing on a consistent basis. Since senior Elyse Burkert came back last week from an abdominal injury, Ganes has had his full arsenal of attack. Senior Gabriella Matautia has led the group, but other players are becoming part of the core unit Ganes has used.
“It’s a really important stretch for us because it can determine how the rest of the conference plays out for us, it is kind of like a make or break home stand,” senior Emily Carlin said. “We have to come out prepared for each match, every game is a battle. There are no easy games, especially in this conference.”
During the last several years, Temple has played considerably better at home than on the road. Since 2008, the Owls are 36-61 away from North Broad Street, compared to their 35-23 record at home. In 2010 and 2011, the Owls won one away game each season, not counting neutral-site matches. Carlin said she knows just how important these home matches are.
“We are really excited for these upcoming matches because they are in our own gym that we love playing at,” Carlin said. “I feel like the team has a certain comfort level of being at home, and I think it translates into better play for our team.”
Ganes said he knows just how important it is for a strong fan base to come to these next four games.
“We had a really good turnout on Friday against Memphis,” Ganes said. “The crowd was enthusiastic, they were cheering throughout, getting on the other team. It truly was a home environment. This stuff really helps because it gives us an advantage over the other team and gives us that extra boost of energy. We are really hoping that this fan support continues during this home stretch.”
“We really want a lot of fans to come out and support the team, we play really hard and want to display this to the student body,” freshman Tyler Davis said. “It’s nice that we have so many home games in a row because we were on the road a lot in the beginning of the season.”
The team said they want to prove themselves during this home stand and pick up three more wins, if not four.
“It’s important that we win these next four games,” Davis said. “It’s never fun losing at home. We were projected to finish the season seventh, but we all think we can do a lot better than that, and we have to prove that to the rest of the conference with these upcoming games.”
Rich Fogel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RBFogel26.