Temple women’s volleyball’s program best 9-0 undefeated start to the season came to an end on Thursday. The Owls lost to Villanova 3-1 in its only Big 5 match of the season.
Villanova, which improved to 8-2, won a commanding first set 25-14. The Owls only mustered up eight kills on 39 attempts, a dismal .077 percentage.
Temple regrouped and won a competitive second set 25-21. The Owls weren’t able to build off of that momentum, dropping the third set 25-15, despite a strong start that produced a 10-8 Temple lead. The Wildcats took the decisive fourth set 25-18.
The Villanova crowd was vocal throughout the match, but the team did not let it become a distraction, senior outside hitter Dana Westfield said.
“It’s kind of like a vacuum, you can’t hear anything that we’re saying on the court, the people on the bench, the coaches,” Westfield said. “We did touch on it a little bit, like, ‘Oh they’re loud. Don’t listen to them.’ It is very easy to get sucked up into that.”
While frustrated with the final result, coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam was pleased with his team’s cohesiveness.
“I do like the fact that the team stayed together throughout the entire match,” Ganesharatnam said. Even after a set like the opening set we were able to find solutions, make adjustments, coming back and competing and winning that set. And then even when Villanova went on runs in the third set and fourth set, there was never feel of a defeat. We were still in it and trying to make it work and find solutions.”
“After the first set, we realized it was kind of shaky,” sophomore outside hitter Gem Grimshaw said. “So in the second set we were like ‘that was our fault that we lost. They didn’t do anything special’. We just decided to control our side of the net, and we focused on our passing better and just fixing the little things. We really had the will to win that set.”
Grimshaw had a team high 12 kills, with a .116 percentage. Junior outside hitter Katerina Papazoglou added 11 kills and a .242 percentage.
The Temple front row had a particularly tough time contending with the Wildcats’ blocking. Villanova outpaced the Owls with 9.5 team blocks to Temple’s two, led by redshirt-sophomore middle hitter Sophia Howling, who contributed six block assists and one block solo. Senior setter Emma Decker was also a force up front for Villanova, adding 5 block assists.
“They did a good job making it hard on our attackers,” Ganesharatnam said. “We have to make sure we control the ball on our side better so we can set up our attackers in a better situation.”
The Owls returned to the Main Line on Friday and dropped three consecutive sets to Princeton University in their last match before conference play.
The match started out poorly for Temple, which fell 19-7 after a few major runs by the Tigers. They lost the 25-15 and followed it up with a 25-14 loss in the second set.
It looked like Temple had control of the third set, with its largest lead coming at 17-11. They were leading 23-20 before dropping five straight points to the Tigers who won the decisive set 25-23. The final two points were both Temple errors.
Errors were a recurring problem for the Owls over their two games at Villanova. Temple averaged 5.86 errors per set. They averaged just over four during their winning streak.
“I think these two teams really exposed some of our weaknesses,” Ganesharatnam said. “They put a lot of pressure on us. That is probably one of the reasons that we into so many unforced errors. This is a very talented team…but it’s also a very young and inexperienced team as well. So we have to be fair to this team, we have to give them time to progress and get better.”
That inexperience may be partly to blame for the Owls’ struggle to open matches up.
“We had a hard time getting our energy up and keeping it up,” freshman middle blocker Kayla Spells said. “We just have to make sure that when we start out, we know exactly what we’re trying to set out to do. We kind of came into this without as much of a goal as we probably should have.
“I just think that we weren’t there during the games,” sophomore right side hitter Peyton Boyd said. “It was a battle to get to the level that we normally play out.”
Boyd was the only Owl with double digit kills with 10, on a .353 percentage. Sophomore setter Tyler Lindgren manufactured 21 assists and junior libero Averi Salvador added 13 digs.
The Tigers were led by senior outside hitter Devon Peterkin, who led the team with 18 kills and 12 digs.
“They were really just applying pressure,” Boyd said. “They were a team that didn’t fold when we would play well. So when we would play well and they wouldn’t fold it really made us mentally break down.”
Despite going winless in the event, the Owls will look ahead to their conference opener at South Florida on Friday.
“I’d rather have these situations now then four weeks from now, or three weeks from now, or next weekend,” Ganesharatnam said. “We wanted to see where we are with this tournament. I think we saw where we are, and as much as we are very excited about the progression of this young team, there’s still a lot of areas we need to improve on. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Their struggles at Villanova have provided the Owls a blueprint of what they need to work on in order to be successful in conference play.
“We know exactly what we did wrong from it,” Spells said. “So we can just go back into practice, go back into the gym and know exactly what we need to work on.”