After losing every phase of the game to open their match against Central Connecticut State University, the Owls rallied to win the next three sets and start off the Temple Invitational with a win.
The team showed two very different faces from the first set to the next three. Temple hit -.135 in the opening set with 12 errors against just seven kills, falling to the Blue Devils 25-13.
“I think everything started with our serve-receive,” coach Bakeer Ganes said. “Our serve-receive really wasn’t that good.”
“We were totally out of sync,” he added. “Our rhythm was off, our communication was off, the movement on the court was just not good, it was not fluid.”
Led by a surprise performance by senior outside hitter Jingyu Zhang, who recorded match-leading 18 kills on .405 hitting, the Owls clawed back to claim the second set 25-21. The set featured six lead changes and 12 ties, as the home team wasn’t able to pull away until the final points.
Temple followed much the same formula in the next two sets, with Zhang leading the way and junior outside hitter Elyse Burkert playing a seldom-seen second fiddle on offense. The Owls took the third set 25-19, pulling away once again at the end in a set that they never trailed.
“Zhang was the reason we won that third set, there’s no way around that,” Ganes said. “She was the MVP of this match. She does that in practice every time. This was the first time she did it offensively at this level, with this confidence, so far.”
Once Ganes realized who the hot hand was he and the team made sure to find her on sets as much as possible. Her impact was doubly important as the coach felt Burkert wasn’t at her best in the match.
“We usually do that, if somebody’s hot you’ve got to give that person the ball until basically their arm falls off,” he said.
The final set saw the Owls battling with the Blue Devils early on, before the visitors pulled ahead 18-13. A Temple time out seemingly allowed the team to regroup, however, as they stormed back on a 12-1 run, closing out the fourth and deciding set 25-19. They improved to 8-4 on the year, continuing their best start to a season since 2002.
Burkert recorded another double-double on the night, knocking down 17 kills to go along with 11 digs. Fellow junior outside hitter Gabriella Matautia tallied 11 kills and 10 digs of her own, and sophomore setter Tiffany Connatser quarterbacked the team with 48 assists and 12 digs.
The match finished shortly before 6 p.m., allowing the Owls hardly more than an hour to rest before warming up for their next match of the tournament against Navy at 7:30 p.m.
Navy enters the tournament at 3-7, and the Owls will be looking to capture their ninth win on the year and improve to 2-0 in the tournament.