After missing out on an American Athletic Conference championship in 2014, the white board hanging in the team’s locker room read: “Nine points, don’t leave it up to the committee.”
Temple finished last season with nine points in the conference standings—tied for second with Southern Methodist—as Central Florida took home the title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We knew our conference was only going to get one automatic bid, but we knew it was not very likely we were going to get an at-large bid,” junior outside hitter Tyler Davis said. “We don’t want it to be based on anyone else’s decision or some slim chance we make the tournament.”
Temple sits atop The American standings after winning its first four conference games.
After improving four spots in the The American’s standings last season, the Owls are trying to adapt to a new role on top of the conference.
“We finished sixth my freshman year, tied for second last year and now first this year, hopefully,” Davis said. “It feels great that we are reaching our goals and doing everything right. The energy is very different with our team from last year.”
Temple finished 9-3 in non-conference play this season, and Davis said the team worried it wouldn’t be ready to compete for a conference title after countless mental errors.
In the team’s first weekend of play in The American—a road trip to Florida from Sept. 25-27—Temple notched shutout wins against South Florida and Central Florida.
“I think that first weekend was good for us because we were all a little nervous coming in and we weren’t sure how the teams were going to look,” Davis said. “I think that weekend put us in a very good position.”
In four conference games, Temple has collected 201 kills with a 33.2 hitting percentage. Temple ranks No. 4 in Division I in kills per set with 14.38 and No. 11 in assists per set with 13.41.
The team has won 12 of the 13 sets it has played against teams in The American.
Sophomore middle blocker Janine Simmons, who previously had doubts about how the team would compete in the conference, said she is more comfortable after Temple’s 4-0 start.
“Conference games helped our confidence, but I think it’s going to be hard the second time around,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be harder the longer we go into conference. Other teams are going to get better and we have to work harder in practice, so we don’t plateau at a certain level to make sure we maintain how well we are doing.”
Simmons’ doubts stemmed from mental errors and defensive struggles early in the season for the Owls, but she feels the team is beginning to limit mistakes each game. Since the start of conference play, Temple has tallied 25.5 blocks and 199 digs.
“I think we are doing great,” Simmons said. “There are balls that are just amazing, and defense is playing so well. Our serving is going well. [There are] a lot of different aspects of the game that we are doing well.”
With the recent success, coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam wants the team to stay level-headed.
“I think we have to differentiate between ambitions and goals,” Ganesharatnam said. “I think winning the conference is one of our ambitions and you should have that ambition as an athlete and as a coach.”
Ganesharatnam said the Owls will need to rely on more than just physical ability in order to maintain their success.
“We need to understand physical skill set is not going to cut it,” Ganesharatnam said. “We need to have a certain level of skill set, but also pure will to compete. If we do that, we should be okay.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.