Despite returning home to an energetic crowd for the first time in four weeks the Owls dropped their fourth match in their last five, falling in straight sets to Atlantic 10 Conference newcomer VCU (22-3, 8-2 in A-10).
Temple now sits at 5-5 in the conference, struggling to hold onto the sixth and final conference playoff spot.
“I think we just need to regroup,” junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia said. “We need to seriously sit down and assess ourselves individually and figure out what’s going on.”
“Our team works best when we’re all together and as soon as one person’s out, we’re struggling,” Matautia added. “If two people aren’t having a good game we’re really in trouble, and it’s just like a snowball effect.”
VCU jumped out right away in the first set and never looked back, as Temple was only able to tie the score once in the open points. The rams hit .571 in the set without recording an error as they ran away 25-15.
Temple didn’t fare much better in the second set as the Rams’ height was too much for them, en route to a 25-16 loss. VCU hit .320 with just four errors while the Owls struggled to get anything going, recording just nine kills on .094 hitting.
“It should have been actually really exciting for us,” senior libero Chelsea Tupuola said. “We made it look harder than it was.”
“People probably thought we were back on our heels and were just so surprised when we really weren’t,” she added.
The final set proved to be closer, with seven ties and three lead changes but the Owls fizzled at the end, falling 25-19 in front of an unusually silent crowd.
“They had a very good game plan and they really did a good job executing it,” coach Bakeer Ganes said. “But they’re actually not very skilled technique-wise, as a team they play very well together.”
The team was noticeably frustrated afterwards, particularly in their inability to generate energy within themselves.
“As soon as we start to play bad we get mad at ourselves and then we kind of put more unneeded pressure because we’re frustrated with ourselves that we just want to do as good as we know we can be,” Matautia said.
Ganes added that the team seemed timid, something Tupuola and Matautia agreed with. It didn’t help the Owls either that sophomore middle back Jennifer Iacobini sprained her ankle in practice this week and had to sit out. She’ll also miss the match against Charlotte on Saturday.
Temple lost in every major category, with the biggest difference being hitting percentage and blocks. VCU had 12 stuffs on the night compared to one for the Owls. The home team also had an uncharacteristically high seven service errors.
“We should have been more aggressive on the serve,” Ganes said. “That’s something we can control and it doesn’t matter how small, how big you are. That’s an easy way to attack the opponent.”
Matuatia led the match with 12 kills, hitting .233 on the night while fellow junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert tacked on 11 of her own. But that was as good as it got for Temple.
“It was a big goal for us to use the block instead of just swing,” Tupuola said.
Former Owl, redshirt senior middle back Jasmine Waters, was efficient against her former squad, hitting at a .583 clip with eight kills.
“I love that girl to death,” Tupuola said. “I’m very, very proud of her, but it was hard seeing her succeed as she did.”
The Owls have little time to regroup, however, as the take on Charlotte in McGonigle Hall on Saturday trying to stay in the playoff hunt. With Fordham and Rhode Island neck and neck with Temple every match is critical.
“It’s still there,” Tupuola said. “Our hunger for more is still there.”