Owls fare well against top teams

The team was picked to finish second behind Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference.

Then junior outside hitter Irem Asci serves the ball in the Owls’ straight sets win against Villanova on Sept. 16, 2016 at the Palestra. She had 19 kills in the Owls' loss to the Wildcats on Friday. | EVAN EASTERLING / TTN FILE PHOTO

Temple has finished its tough preseason slate. The schedule included four matches against teams that made it to the 2015 NCAA tournament and three matches against teams from Power 5 conferences. Temple has gone 3-1 against teams who made the tournament last season.

The tough preseason has coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam feeling confident for conference play, where Temple looks to improve from a season ago when it finished second in the American Athletic Conference.

“This is by far the best non-conference schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Ganesharatnam said. “Every weekend has been extremely competitive, and even in our losses like to Cleveland State, we have been competing and it has given us a lot of confidence.”

But the coaches of the American Athletic Conference picked the Owls to finish the same as last season in the preseason poll—second place.  The team slated to finish on top of The American is Cincinnati. The Bearcats, who are off to a slow start with the worst non-conference record in The American and have lost five of their last six matches, finished third in the 2015 season including a split with Temple.

“We know we we’re picked to finish second in the preseason poll,”  junior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz said. “We played a tough preseason, and all that has done is made us ready for the season and we’re ready to play with the tough teams in our conference.”

Temple also has added confidence from their new faces, sophomore middle blocker Iva Deak and junior setter Kyra Coundourides as well as a new fast-paced system to help compete with the top teams in the country.

“Some of the best teams we play have had high-powered offenses,” sophomore libero Mia Heirakuji said. “We think the new way we’re playing this season can really help us match up better with teams.”

Temple right now sits at 7-3 in preseason play, putting them right in the middle of the pack compared to other teams in The American. East Carolina (10-0), Tulsa (10-1) and Connecticut (9-2) are leading The American so far in non-conference play.

“We’re ready for this season,” senior middle blocker Kirsten Overton said. “Our goal is to win the conference, and we’re going to try. We have so many new faces, but we have high expectations for them. We don’t think of them as just new faces, they are part of the team and we need them to perform if we are going to meet our goal.”

Looking to lead Temple are preseason all-conference picks, including Overton and outside hitters Irem Asci and Rapacz. Asci leads the team in kills and digs, and is tied for first in aces with Rapacz. Overton leads the team in blocks and has the highest hitting percentage among players with significant playing time.

Temple opens conference play Friday against Tulane. Temple will be in McGonigle Hall all weekend, playing Houston on Sunday.

Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at kevinschaeffer@temple.edu.

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