Owls eye finish near top of conference

The team started its spring season with a loss on Saturday.

Alina Abdurakhimova volleys at practice on Jan. 11, 2017, at Legacy Tennis Center in East Falls during her junior season. | BRIANNA SPAUSE / FILE PHOTO

After a 2016 season in which the Owls finished with a 20-6 overall record, an upperclassman-heavy lineup is ready to aim for the top of the American Athletic Conference.

“We have a very strong team this year,” coach Steve Mauro said. “So if we can finish in the top-two, top-three in the conference it will be great.”

The Owls have already had a bit of experience this season.

In September and October, Temple played in the Princeton Invitational, the Cissie Leary Invitational and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regional tournaments. In the Princeton Invitational, Temple won three doubles matches and four singles matches against players from Princeton University and Cornell University. Temple kicked off its spring season on Saturday with a 6-1 loss against Old Dominion University.

The Owls only lost one senior to graduation last year and added two new players.

Cecilia Castelli, a freshman from Vercelli, Italy, is the only underclassman on the squad. Mauro said she is a “very strong player” who will help the team achieve its goals, even though she doesn’t have much Division I experience.

Mauro said Galina Chernykh, a graduate student who transferred from the University of Rhode Island, succeeded in the fall tournaments and is expected to be a major contributor, especially in doubles.

“We’re experimenting with different combinations, but one of the combinations we like is the transfer from Rhode Island and [senior Dina] Karina,” Mauro said. “They played well in the fall.”

Chernykh and Karina are among the seven upperclassmen on the eight-woman roster. Seniors Anais Nussaume and Mariana Bedon will be a doubles pair for the first time since the 2014-15 season when they won two of their three matches. The pair lost its match 6-3 against Old Dominion.

Junior Alina Abdurakhimova, who has played since her freshman year, should see a lot of time on the court with her fellow Uzbekistani teammate Yana Khon in doubles matches. The two juniors are both from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and played doubles together as freshmen. The pair lost its match 6-2 on Saturday.

“She has the potential to be one of the top players in our conference,” Mauro said of Abdurakhimova.

Mauro hopes the team will be at the top of the conference as well. The Owls will also have plenty of chances to prove themselves as the best team in the area when they take on La Salle, Villanova and the University of Pennsylvania in the spring.

“Last year we had a good year, but I think with the addition of the two players I think we’re working a little more on fitness and consistency,” Mauro said. “I think those are the things that are going to help us do well this year.”

Graham Foley can be reached at graham.foley@temple.edu.

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