Days before the start of American Athletic Conference play, Janine Simmons stood alone on an empty McGonigle Hall gym floor before practice.
The senior middle blocker worried the mental errors Temple committed in its 9-3 start may prevent the team from reaching its full potential throughout the season.
The Owls tied for second in The American last season and hoped for first heading into 2015, but Simmons is unsure about the team’s fate.
“You don’t know how ready you are in conference until you play in conference,” Simmons said. “We will be able to tell after that first weekend against South Florida and Central Florida.”
The Owls begin conference play Sept. 25 against South Florida with the goal of winning a conference title for the first time since they were the Atlantic-10 Conference champions in 2007.
Last season, the Owls averaged 2.24 blocks per set and 17.54 digs per set in conference play and want to prioritize defense after averaging 2.2 blocks per set and 14.5 digs per set in non-conference action.
“I really hope we are making improvements, we have glimpses of being the really good team that we have, but then there are times where we don’t perform where we need to be,” Simmons said. “I think it is going to come down to how consistently we are when it comes to conference play this year.”
After finishing with a 15-5 record last year in The American, which currently has no teams ranked in the Top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Coaches poll, the Owls were picked to finish third in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.
“I think honestly—I don’t want to talk smack here—but, the conference does treat Temple like, ‘Oh, it’s Temple,’” junior middle blocker Kirsten Overton said. “We are the only team that has the most returners, yet we are still ranked third. That is just the extra step we need and motivation we need.”
The Owls can also fulfill their other goal—making the NCAA tournament—by winning The American.
“We don’t want to rely on an at-large bid,” Overton said. “This conference is very evenly matched and I think it’s something very pronounced, anyone could win on any given day.”
Since leaving the A-10 for The American in 2013, Temple’s conference record is 24-14.
Although Temple found some success in The American in 2014, coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said the squad needs to continue to improve in order to fulfill its goals.
“We had a tremendous season last year, but at the same time we want to always achieve more than the previous season,” Ganesharatnam said. “But that doesn’t always mean it is going to happen. A lot has to come together for us to reach the top.”
Ganesharatnam described The American as a physical conference. He said the team will need to bring in a certain quality of athletes in order to compete with the top teams in the league.
“You can’t do that in a year,” Ganesharatnam said. “It goes into the process of recruiting. It takes the right kids who are physically suitable for this conference.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volleyball shot by David Petrozziello, edited by Harrison Brink.