Tonya Cardoza almost has a starter on the floor regardless of the score, or the quarter.
After losing two players to graduation and seeing five additional members of last year’s squad leave the program, Temple has five players remaining from one year ago, and currently has nine active players on the roster.
Transfer Mama Traore and freshmen Tanaya Atkinson, Alliya Butts and Khadijah Berger have helped fill the spots left behind, but the fact remains that the Owls have one of the shortest benches in the conference.
Junior Erica Covile has had her role affected most by the team’s lack of depth. Covile has upped her minutes from 25.3 minutes per game a year ago to 30.3 mpg this season.
An injury to forward Safiya Martin early in conference play increased Covile’s role even further. A guard by trade, Covile has had to play out of position all season and is averaging 34 mpg in conference play.
The Detroit native said she has felt the effects of her team’s limited options off the bench.
“My body hurts so bad, but I can’t do nothing but push through it,” Covile said. “We have a small roster. We don’t really have a lot of people on our team, so I can’t complain. I just have to play through it.”
Senior guard Tyonna Williams, who leads the team with 32 minutes per game, has not felt the same effects as Covile. The veteran said she was prepared to see a lot of time on the court.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worn us down simply because we usually only have about seven or eight players in the rotation since I’ve been here that I’m used to,” Williams said. “So, a lot of the guards, we push ourselves in the summer and practice to get our bodies in shape to play a lot of minutes.”
While her options are fewer this season, coach Tonya Cardoza has used her bench more often than in years past.
Last season, the team had three players average more than 30 mpg. The year before that, four Owls saw that amount of time on the court. Thus far this season, only Williams and Covile are averaging more than 30 mpg.
Cardoza and her team are trying to make the best out of the hand they were dealt, she said.
“I think for us, this is just the situation and we’ve tried our best to maintain as much as we possibly can,” Cardoza said. “But I think our guys have embraced it and they know that each one of them has a role to play in order for us to be successful.”
Off the court, change in personnel has also made an impact.
The players go out to eat, watch movies together and even have a group chat they can all use when they’re not together. The term “family” is often used by the team to describe the players’ relationships with each other.
“This team just feels much more like a family,” Williams said. “It’s like a sisterhood between all of us.”
“Past years, there was a lot of disloyalty, people not meshing with the team, people being selfish, and this year it’s not like that at all,” Williams added. “Everybody’s for each other.”
Cardoza said she has seen this family-like bond translate to a team-first mentality from her players.
“It’s all about chemistry and really wanting something for your teammate,” Cardoza said. “The biggest thing is it’s not about I or me. It really is about our team.”
With a young active roster featuring three sophomores and three freshmen, leadership was a big reason for the team’s coherence. Williams and Covile took it upon themselves to step up and help guide their teammates.
Although it was something she had not done much before, taking a leadership role was something Covile knew she had to do.
“I’ve been here the longest after [Williams],” Covile said. “So, I felt like when [Williams] leaves, who are all the freshman going to look up to? Especially the incoming freshmen. So I felt I needed to step up and be that leader.”
Reinforcements may be on the way next year for the team. In addition to their incoming recruiting class, the Owls will also have three transfers.
Sophomore Donnaizha Fountain and junior Ruth Sherrill have been with the team since the beginning of the season, while junior Monasia Bolduc recently transferred and has been practicing with the Owls for the past few weeks.
The added depth of these players, as well as the skill sets they bring with them, could allow Temple to play at a fast-paced tempo and use a press on defense next season, which is something it has not been able to do much this year.
“Monasia just joined […] but Ruth and Donnaizha have been here from the start so they understand what it’s like to practice and what we want,” Cardoza said. “When you add those three as well as the freshmen that are coming, we talk about how we want to play [and] they definitely help with that style of play because of their athleticism.”
Owen McCue firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Owen_McCue