After a seven-year reign atop the Atlantic Ten Conference volleyball rankings, Temple’s 2004 semifinal defeat to Xavier left the Owls with a bitter taste.
But after faltering in the standings last season, the Owls have quickly climbed back to the top.
Prior to the season, the conference Web site officially announced, “Temple … chosen to win the East Division regular season title.”
In just a matter of months, there has been a drastic change in the Owls’ fortunes. Tuesday’s sweep of La Salle was the Owls’ seventh 3-0 victory in just over half a season. Last year, the Owls had a total of eight shutout wins.
Of Temple’s 15-player roster, over 25 percent was born and raised in China, including current captain Zhen Jia Liu, commonly known as ‘Tuzi’, and 2004 A-10 Rookie of the Year Yue Liu.
In addition, Maira Mogollon of Peru and Danielle Bablich of Toronto play key roles in the Owls’ attack. In such a heterogeneous mixture, failure would seem all but expected, especially when language alone can create confusion.
“New players, new team,” Jia Liu said. “We’re building confidence in the team, just [putting] everyone together as a team. Communication is sometimes a problem, but it’s more about confidence than… preseason [communication] problems.”
Freshman Patricia Vernon explained how players from such varied backgrounds come together as a team.
“Assistant coach Bai Qing Liu brings together the border between players,” Vernon said. “Although it’s a rebound year, there’s no pressure – we all want the same thing.”
Foreseeing the potential language barrier and its inherent problems, coach Bob Bertucci devised a plan to bond the returning members of last year’s team. Since the beginning of the season, Bertucci and the players have attributed much of their fast start to the eye-opening experience abroad.
“We took a trip to China, to experience together what others feel … to be sensitive to a different culture and lifestyle,” Bertucci said. “And the goal was to become totally trusting and reliant on the other girls.
“We relied heavily on those four [Chinese national] girls while we were there, and during that time the team understood how [the foreign players] felt when we were home [in the United States].”
The learning experience aside, Bertucci said this team is much more receptive to dealing with and understanding a multi-cultural and diverse group than previous Temple teams.
His only fear, he said, is a lack of general concentration during games – lapses that delay victories and hasten losses.
Given the potential pressure created by Temple’s volleyball history and complicated by his team’s elaborate identity, the coach’s expectations are nonetheless very high, Bertucci said.
“Our goal is to win the conference championships, to win it at the tournament and qualify for the NCAAs,” Bertucci said. “Yes, we can do it, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Andrew Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.