Owls shake off early nerves to win in four sets

Two transfers debuted and sophomore Mia Heirakuji played her first game at libero for the Owls.

Temple battled against Northern Arizona University in the first match of the season. After splitting the first two sets, the Owls came back to win the third and fourth sets for a 3-1 victory.

It looked like the first game for both teams, as the match started out sloppy. Both teams took a couple of sets to get settled in, combining for 36 errors in the first two sets.

“We definitely had to get the jitters out,” junior outside hitter Izzy Rapacz said. “It definitely felt good to get out on the court and play a real game, we had a scrimmage that helped us get ready for a tough team like [Northern Arizona].”

Rapacz finished the match with a team high 18 kills. Junior outside hitter Irem Asci and senior middle blocker Kirsten Overton also contributed to the Owls’ win, combining to match Rapacz’ kill total.

“We scouted them really well and we were really prepared,” Overton said. “We knew [Northern Arizona] was a scrappy team so we had play really scrappy too.”

After graduating three seniors last season, there were some new faces playing for the Owls.

Transfers Iva Deak, a junior middle blocker from Iowa Western Community College, and Kyra Coundourides, a junior setter from Virginia Tech, each made their debut for the Owls.

“We had to fill three important positions [middle blocker], [setter], and [libero],” Overton said. “We needed [Deak], [sophomore libero Mia Heirakuji], and [Coundourides] to step up, and they really did.”

Deak finished the match with eight kills and a team-high six blocks. Coundourides played the entire match as the team’s setter finishing with 48 assists. In her first match replacing three-year starter Alyssa Drachslin at libero, Heirakuji finished with 11 digs and three assists.

The Lumberjacks came into McGonigle Hall as the reigning Big Sky Conference champions, starting their quest to reach back-to-back NCAA tournaments.  Northern Arizona is projected to win the Big Sky again this year, which could give the Owls a big win on their resume.

“It definitely helps to beat such a good team like Northern Arizona,” head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam said. “[Northern Arizona], made the tournament last year and finished ranked 33rd in the nation, they are going to go on from this game and win a lot games so this will definitely help our RPI (Rating Percentage Index) at the end of the year.”

This was the first game of the Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia Temple Invitational. The Owls will look for the sweep of the tournament at 6 p.m. in McGonigle Hall when they play Hampton University.

Kevin Schaeffer can be reached at kevinschaeffer@temple.edu or on Twitter at @_kevinschaeffer.

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